DOW responds to critics of bear shooting

3-year-old bruin had cancerous tumor in its sinuses


— Two shots fired last week from a Division of Wildlife officer's handgun continue to reverberate through the Yampa Valley.
The Aug. 8 shooting of a malnourished black bear on Howelsen Hill sparked debate among some residents of Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat Today received a number of responses from the community about the bear shooting after an article was printed. While some of the complaints were about a headline over a photo of the animal that read "Bear-ly alive," the newspaper also received both phone calls and letters about the DOW's actions.
"If the DOW or someone else were curious about disease or sickness in this particular case I think taking blood or other samples could have provided more information and if necessary this bear could have been a subject for treatment," Paul Fox wrote in a letter sent to the Steamboat Pilot.
DOW area wildlife manager Susan Werner responded Tuesday to Fox's complaints by explaining that the DOW cannot deal with all animals at risk in such a painstaking manner as he urged.
"Taking an adult bear into captivity is extremely difficult," she said. "Rather than let it suffer for a prolonged period of time, we chose to give it a quicker death."
Mike Middleton, the DOW official who shot the bear, also responded to Fox's complaints.
"We seldom can take the time or effort to treat individuals in a population," he said. "We deal with populations that include thousands of animals."
Although Middleton acknowledged that there has been a good deal of discussion and critique about his actions last Tuesday, he has not received any calls.
"It's been quite the topic of conversation," he said. "Mostly in coffee shops and around water coolers."
The full story of the bear's predicament, however, was not known until recently. The day after he shot the bear, Middleton took the bruin into Fort Collins for a necropsy.
DOW veterinarian Mike Miller performed tests on the bear and sent the results to Werner. The necropsy report indicated that the bear had a large tumor that was obstructing its sinuses and pressing against its brain. The tumor was later found to be malignant and was described to Middleton as "an aggressive carcinoma." The bear, Middleton said, would have deteriorated rapidly.
"I knew something was wrong," he added. "It was kind of a relief to know I did the right thing."
In addition, the veterinarian found that the bear was not, in fact, eating garbage over the week before its death, as Middleton had expected. The bear's stomach contained mostly leaves and berries, what the veterinarian described as "normal" bear food.
Middleton responded to that by explaining that the bear hadn't eaten much of anything at all that past week. Its nasal passages obstructed by the tumor, the bruin was probably unable to find enough food to nourish itself, he said.


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