Community grieves over dead bear
TAHOE CITY – Every evening before dusk, the cinnamon-colored cub passed through Jesse Browning’s Tahoe City yard.
Browning grew so accustomed to seeing the bear that on the days it didn’t make an appearance, he said he felt disappointed. Browning, who called the cub his “buddy,” won’t be seeing it anymore. The bear was accidentally killed last week by a Placer County Sheriff’s deputy while trying to scare it away from a home in the Granlibakken neighborhood.
A little before noon on May 20, the sheriff’s department responded to a call from a Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company driver that a bear had entered a house. Although the bear exited the residence, after walking about 100 feet it stopped to eat the bag of flour it had stolen. A deputy preparing a bear aversion kit accidentally inverted the order of the slugs, placing a lethal round in front of a non-lethal rubber buck shot. The cub was shot in the rear and killed, creating an uproar among residents who faulted the sheriff’s office for killing an animal they had come to embrace.
Ann Bryant, director of the BEAR League, was in Tahoma responding to another bear incident when she got a call from a Granlibakken resident about the cub. Rushing to the scene, Bryant was only four blocks from the home when she got another call, this time informing her she was too late. “‘They killed our baby bear,'” Bryant said the caller told her.
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Bryant arrived at the house to find a chaotic scene – a crowd had gathered outside the home, some residents crying while others were screaming at the deputies. The deputy who had killed the bear was also crying.
“The neighborhood all loved him,” said Bryant, who had been getting calls the past four months from residents asking how they could protect the year-old male cub, only recently separated from his mother. “They wanted to make sure he stayed safe.”
Both Bryant and Browning described a horrific death for the cub. After being shot in the behind, the bear reportedly ran up the stairs of the next door neighbor’s front porch, then began screaming and violently convulsing. Finally, it rolled off the porch, curled up in the fetal position, put its hands over its eye, and died.
“It was devastating to hear the cub dying while it was crying,” said Ron McIntyre, on whose front steps the cub died. “I was devastated by the loss of a beast like that, but equally as hurtful is the poor deputy. You’ve got to feel sorry for her.”
Bryant is a strong supporter of the bear aversion program, which aims to frighten bears by using non-penetrating rubber bullets. She said the problem lies with the fact that the sheriff’s office uses the same gun for loading live and non-lethal slugs. Other police departments around the basin have a separate, bright orange shotgun used solely for bear aversion.
According to Capt. Rick Armstrong, head of the Tahoe City Sheriff’s substation, the department is considering making changes as a result of the shooting, such as making the rubber bullet a bright red color or eliminating the policy that a live round has to follow a rubber slug.
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