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Bears seen as a growing problem on California Mesa

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Photo by Norman Shetley A female bear was killed after an apparent attempt to get into the home of Norman Shetley. The bear was spotted by a passing neighbor, who asked his son-in-law to grab his rifle and head that way.

Locally grown sweet corn is a tasty treat that's proving irresistible for bears coming off the Uncompahgre Plateau. Due to a lack of food on the plateau, bears have been moving into the corn fields of California Mesa. The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife reports bears have also broken into some buildings in that area. Numerous bears have been put down by CPW officers, Wildlife Services (a USDA agency) and landowners.

A couple of weeks ago a female bear was spotted on the deck of Norman Shetley's home on E Road, about two miles east of Delta. The bear was pawing at a window, in an apparent attempt to get into the house and the food inside.

"I was watching news at about 5 p.m. when I saw a shadow go by the sliding doors off the family room onto the deck," Shetley said. Thinking it was a large dog, he turned his attention back to the TV. A few minuties later he heard "a heck of a big boom," followed by the ringing of his telephone. On the other end, his neighbor's wife advised him to stay inside -- her husband had shot the bear, but it was still on the move. The injured bear was slowly moving toward a draw when a second shot put it down permanently.

That bear was sniffing at a window that was about 12 feet from Shetley's recliner. Shetley's neighbor told him the bear was up on her hind feet, pushing at the window with its paws.

Shetley, age 92, feels fortunate his neighbors were looking out for him. "I'm so darned crippled I couldn't get up to run, let alone get any kind of weapon. The good Lord was looking out for me one more time," said Shetley, a World War II veteran.

Mark Richman, CPW district wildlife manager, says the freeze the second week of June took a huge toll on oak brush (acorns) and berry plants, so those plants are not producing fruit. There was also a long dry spell from May through June that dried up a lot of forbs -- wide leaf plants -- that bears eat early in the summer. So bears have been having difficulty finding food. Richman says he has seen no acorns on the oak on the Uncompahgre Plateau, which is extremely unusual.

Consequently, bears that normally have good food sources on the Uncompahgre Plateau have been moving into the corn fields.

Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for CPW's southwest region, said CPW is working with landowners and wildlife services trying to keep crop damage to a minimum. Harvesting the corn is the only large-scale way to protect it.

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