Steamboat Springs The digital police scanner sits just a few feet from Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter and photographer Matt Stensland’s desk.
Placed just to the left of his computer and above a makeshift wanted poster of a terrifying velociraptor, the scanner buzzes throughout the day, often becoming the beating heart of the newsroom.
And on May 22, 2012, an interesting call came across, prompting Stensland to turn up the volume and pay closer attention.
“I had yet to get a bear photo that spring,” Stensland said, “so I ventured out.”
The photo and video of a yearling male bear falling out of a tree after getting tranquilized that Stensland caught on camera that day made local, national and international headlines.
The latest, and maybe biggest, splash was a eight-page spread in the Dec. 9 issue of Time magazine that featured a full-page reprint of Stensland’s photo on page 37.
Accompanying an article about the need for stronger wildlife management associated with a growing wildlife population that puts Americans and animals in close proximity, the photo told that story in one striking image.
“I started laughing (when I saw it). What could you do?” Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said. “I didn’t expect to see it in Time magazine. It was a good photo. On the one hand, it was good. When people attract bears to town and we have to move them, this is sometimes what we have to do. We try to make a learning experience for people.”
The now famous bear had become a nuisance in the neighborhood near Pine Street between Eighth and Ninth streets.
That day the person who reported seeing the bear was concerned because school was about to be dismissed.
Haskins said it was decided the bear needed to be taken out of the area because it had consistently caused problems.
After being shot with the tranquilizer dart, the bear moved farther up the tree. When the bear fell asleep a couple of minutes later, it had wedged itself between branches.
Haskins said those on scene considered multiple options, and finally, with the help of the Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, they decided to use a rope to try and lower the bear down from the tree.
In hindsight, Haskins said they should have used a different method to get the bear down. They tried to tie a rope to it, but the rope slipped. Still, Haskins and Fire Rescue were ready with people holding a tarp to catch the bear. Because the bear was asleep for so long from the tranquilizer, Haskins said they had to hurry to get the bear down, fearing it might wake up.
Haskins said this kind of situation occurs a couple of times a year. He recalled a time when a bear was in a tree over a trailer and several times when a bear was in a branch over the river and drainage areas in town when water was at high levels.
For Stensland, it was a good call to answer. When he got on scene, he sensed it could be a profound moment. He set up a video camera across the street and “positioned myself with my still camera for the inevitable,” he said.
The photo won numerous awards from the Colorado Press Association and Colorado Associated Press Editors and Reporters.
Luckily for Stensland, the photo turned out better for him than the bear, which was relocated to North Routt but continued to create problems. A man said he was trying to scare the bear when he shot it with a shotgun and killed it.
The day after the bear photo appeared in the Steamboat Today, Stensland spent a good portion of his time fielding calls and emails from news organizations across the globe wanting to use the photo.
One of those calls was from CNN, a subsidiary of Time Inc.
“To be published in a major publication such as Time is a defining moment in my career,” said Stensland about the magazine that has 3.3 million weekly subscribers. “Literally millions of people will look at that image.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham