A five-year-old Grand Junction girl was recovering Sunday night from a bear attack that occurred outside her home during the early morning hours, when she stumbled upon the animal after hearing outside noises and thinking it was her dog.
“She went out to investigate the noise around 2:30 a.m. and it appears the little girl surprised the bear. The mother saw the bear dragging the girl away,” said Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region, on Sunday.
The bear dropped the girl after the mom started screaming, Porras said. The girl was treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction where her condition was upgraded to fair condition Sunday afternoon, he said. Two traps have been set for the bear, which will be destroyed if captured, as per CPW policy.
“The mother’s instincts in this case, yelling and screaming at the bear, very likely saved her daughter’s life,” Porras said.
He noted that the incident, which is one of only a handful of calls about nuisance bears in this early season, occurred on Mother’s Day. “But we treat it the same as any other day,” Porras said.
The incident has similarities to a child and mountain lion encounter that occurred during June 2016 in Woody Creek, noted Porras. That’s when a five-year-old boy was grabbed by a mountain lion in his yard. After hearing the boy’s cries, his mother pushed away the animal’s paw and reached into the mountain lion’s mouth to free him. The lion was later captured and destroyed.
Porras said that in follow up investigations by CPW of the Woody Creek incident, “it appears the child stumbled and fell on the lion. And the lion responded in that case as well” to how the bear in Grand Junction’s East Orchard Mesa reacted when a child came upon it unexpectedly in the wee hours of Mother’s Day. “Surprising an animal like that can make an animal feel cornered and trapped and lead to serious injuries.”
He said the ursine, which was described by the girl’s mother as a “large bear,” wasn’t likely looking at the child as prey, nor would it have reacted differently to being surprised by an adult.
“Bears and lions are looking for four-legged prey, they are not looking for two-legged prey,” he said. But Porras added, “All humans are at risk” when encountering an animal unexpectedly.
“If the mother had surprised the bear, it could have led to the mother being attacked as well,” he said.
The city of Aspen hasn’t seen an inordinate amount of nuisance bear calls so far this season, said Sgt. Chip Seamans.
Bear family foraged naturally in 2017
In CPW’s area 8, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, most of Eagle County and eastern Garfield County, eight bears were relocated and 29 were destroyed during 2017, according to Porras. “These are bears deemed a threat to health and human safety and could not be relocated safely.” They could range from a bear who broke into someone’s home or a camper and bear encounter. The previous year in area 8, six bears were relocated and 19 were killed, he said.
As the population increases, so too do wildlife and human encounters.
“But if you tolerate these bears, you’re teaching the bears that it’s OK to be around people,” he said.
Porras said that CPW does not get called in all incidents because people fear nuisance bears will be killed. A late frost or a drought have in the past impacted the food supply of bears in past years, Porras said.
Out in Mesa County last year, home to Sunday’s incident, “they were extremely busy,” Porras said.
Snowmass Village, which enacted the state’s first bear proof container ordinance in 1994, has seen very few calls this season about bears and no incidents of the animals entering homes or cars, according to Laurie Smith, one of the town’s two wildlife officers. In 1999, more teeth were added to the ordinance to address feeding, special event refusal disposal and construction site waste, she said.
The year 2017 was considered a success for Snowmass animal control. Despite 226 sightings in the village, there were no relocations or bears destroyed. Smith said the last time a bear was relocated from Snowmass Village was 2013.
A family of bears who were seen all last year, but who were never Dumpster divers or disruptive to homes or cars, is considered one of 2017’s achievements.
“Last year we had a sow and cubs who throughout the entire spring, summer and fall, moved all around the village,” she said. “They never got in any trouble, even though it wasn’t the best food year. She was able to keep the cubs foraging naturally,” Smith said.
Smith and her colleague Tina White, Snowmass’ other animal services officer, will be presenting a seminar on best practices during an upcoming western black bear workshop later this month, according to Police Chief Brian Olson.
Follow Madeleine on Twitter, @Madski99