Bear-people clashes are on the rise

ASHLAND — Motoring up his Tolman Creek driveway, Tom Shelstad noticed a strange commotion coming from inside his bedroom. Suddenly a 6-foot-by-3-foot window popped out completely from its frame.

Then a burglar came crashing through the window hole and dashed away.

"All I saw was his butt running away," Shelstad says. "You could tell he was afraid."

Shelstad didn't call Ashland police. Instead, he called state wildlife biologists because the intruder was a black bear that had broken into Shelstad's house twice and into at least one other neighborhood residence over the course of one week.

"I couldn't believe it was a bear coming out of my house," Shelstad recalls of the July 16 incident, during which no one was hurt. "I thought, what kind of animal menace is this?"

That menacing bear was trapped Tuesday outside Shelstad's house by a federal wildlife services agent and killed, the latest in a spate of Oregon bruins killed over clashes with people that experts say are easier to avoid than to correct.

The 253-pound boar was the sixth bear killed in Jackson and Josephine counties over clashes with people so far this year. More than 100 have been killed statewide.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists theorize that a poor and late berry crop might be pushing more bears, particularly younger males, toward backyard food sources ranging from garbage heaps to bird feeders.

"I don't think they're in sync with their normal food source," says ODFW wildlife biologist Rosemary Stussy, who handles wildlife-damage complaints for the agency's Rogue District, which includes Jackson and Josephine counties.

Hungry bears are lured to porches where people feed their pets, garbage left outside, and even birdseed, Stussy says. Often they are not shooed away when they first confront people, and over time develop a tolerance of humans that can lead to damage-causing confrontations, Stussy adds.

"All these critters are coming around people, but they're not doing anything assertive to run them off," Stussy says.

Through July 11, ODFW statistics show, 87 bears have been killed over damage issues statewide, and 16 were killed because they were deemed public-safety threats. Of those, six were shot and killed last week in the Florence and Yachats area, where 12 bears have been killed for damage and public-safety reasons so far this year.

Each of those bears was seen repeatedly in the daytime and did not show wariness of people, according to the ODFW. While attacks are rare, habituated bears are often the ones involved in attacks on people.

ODFW policy is not to trap and relocate nuisance or public-safety bears, because human-habituated bears tend not to regain their fear of people once they consider houses to be food sources.

That was the case with Shelstad's bruin burglar, which climbed over a "barricade" of material and up a porch to slip through an open door to feast on catfood kept indoors. On his second break-in, the bear peeled off a screen and climbed through a window to ransack the kitchen.

Shelstad says he has no idea why the bear chose his house. He keeps his garbage locked in a shed.

"We know better than to leave garbage outside," he says.

The bear had been seen several times in the neighborhood and was seen breaking into another nearby home, says Erik Wallbank, Shelstad's landlord.

"The bear wasn't afraid," Wallbank says. "There were dogs around but the bear still did his business."

Eleven bears were killed over damage, public-safety or nuisance problems in Jackson and Josephine counties last year, Stussy says. Eight were killed in 2006 and 11 were killed in 2005 in the two counties, she says.

Oregon's black bear population was estimated by the ODFW in 2005 at about 30,000 animals.

A Selma man reported Wednesday that he was walking his dog and was chased into his house by a black bear that charged him, Stussy says. That case has not been verified this week by the ODFW.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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