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Bear Death Still a Mystery

bear in tarp - snowmass village.JPG
Courtesy Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife

The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife is still searching for who killed and dumped a female adult bear earlier this month. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher checked on the latest in the investigation.

Wildlife officials say they haven’t gotten any breaks in the investigation of a bear killed and dumped in Snowmass Village. A sanitation worker found the adult female at a garbage drop off less than two weeks ago. That was in the Two Creeks subdivision. Bears are becoming more active in the Roaring Fork Valley as they come out of hibernation. Mike Porras is with the Division of Parks and Wildlife. He explains what the agency does know about the case.

“This was an adult sow, and it was wrapped in a tarp and wrapped in some rope. It was not tagged, it was not previously known to our offices as being a nuisance bear.”

The Division released a photo of the bear over the weekend, and there’s a pool of blood next it, on the tarmac. 

“Our officers believe it was killed sometime Friday evening of the 3rd of May and take it too that trash enclosure that night. Then of course it was discovered the next morning on the 4th. Right now what we’re releasing is the bear was shot twice. And at what appears to be close range. How it was shot is something that we’re not revealing because it is still under investigation.”

So the division isn’t saying what kind of gun... or ammunition... was used. Porras says that can be standard procedure. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife does sometimes find out about wildlife being killed and abandoned. But in this case, it is unusual for the bear to be kind of packaged up. At this point Porras says there doesn’t appear to be a connection to a Carbondale man found guilty of killing a bear in or near the Pitkin County landfill last fall.

The town of Snowmass Village has been a little caught in the middle of the incident. When the sanitation worker found the bear, they called town officials—who then called the state wildlife agency. Kelly Vaughn the spokeswoman for Snowmass Village.

“We have heard discussions, definitely water cooler conversations. People agreed that this was a really unfortunate and kind of gruesome incident and kind of upsetting that something like this would happen in our backyard.”

But Vaughn says many believe the case will be solved. Division spokesman Mike Porras says that likely can happen with a tip from the public.

“We encourage everyone if they’ve seen any illegal wildlife activity, to either give their local Colorado Parks and Wildlife office a call. Or if they wish to remain anonymous, they can always call Operation Game Thief.”

[Operation Game Thief recording] “This line is strictly for contacting law enforcement personnel to report wildlife violations. If you have not reached this number in error, and would like to report a wildlife violation to Operation Game Thief, press two any time during this message.”

That hotline is a lot like Crime Stoppers--and right now there’s $500 reward for information leading to an arrest or citation related to the bear investigation. The organization Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter is offering its own $1000 reward for information leading to arrest and prosecution.

Mike Porras explained what kinds of details could be helpful to the case.

“It can be something as simple as looking at the picture and recognizing the shape of the materials that were used. It could be a vehicle that was in an area that it typically isn’t. And sometimes people that commit these things will start to talk, and they’ll tell someone, and next thing you know it starts to get around. And if you hear that information certainly let us know.”

And if you’ve sent in a tip but haven’t heard back--keep in mind it can take months--even years before they’re solved. Most importantly, the Division really wants to talk to who killed the bear.

“The person has the opportunity to turn themselves in. And let us know what happened. We want to talk with the person and know what the circumstances were. And that’s very important, just to learn what may have happened to prompt this, to cause this.”

It is possible to kill a bear to protect someone--or livestock...and not have committed a crime. That may be unlikely in this case. What’s definitely illegal is killing a bear and not tell the state’s wildlife agency.