Killing of bear stirs public safety debate

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Source of this article - Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2007

Some Bradbury residents say it should be a wake-up call for the city to take a more hands-on approach to dealing with the animals.

By Tami Abdollah and Bob Pool
Times Staff Writers

Those who live against the San Gabriel Mountains in Bradbury and surrounding foothill neighborhoods are used to bears roaming down and looking for food and water.

Bear sightings are up significantly this year because of Southern California's record dry spell and, for the most part, people have been able to coexist with the animals.

But on Sunday, a Bradbury homeowner took his rifle and fatally shot a large bear that he thought was menacing the area.

The shooting has sparked debate in and around the area, and authorities Friday were investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of the bear, killed in the backyard of a home on Gardi Street.

Some residents said they hoped the shooting would serve as a wake-up call for city officials to take a more hands-on approach to dealing with the bears, which have appeared in the middle of streets and driveways in recent months. Since the shooting, residents said, no bears have been seen.

"I think people need to realize something bad could happen," said Sharon Palmer, 46, a nutrition writer who has lived on Gardi Street with her husband and two young sons for six years. "These bears could kill one of the kids. It's just a matter of time. Some people in our community think it's just a matter of time before something happens."

Palmer said she feels bad for the bears, but is worried about public safety. Two weeks ago, she said, a bear clawed her car in the driveway, trying to reach a small bag of Trader Joe's Pirate's Booty she had left in the car.

"What people are worried about is what's the next step," Palmer said. "If they're scratching our cars, what's next before they're clawing down our doors?"

Residents said they have learned the bears' routine and how to recognize individual animals. Homeowners have established rituals such as switching on outdoor lights before going out at night, having visitors honk their car horns and prohibiting their children from going outside alone.

Initially, bears were only seen at night. Recently, sightings have become daytime affairs.

Bradbury, a 2-mile-square community of 325 homes near the junction of the 210 and 605 freeways in the San Gabriel Valley, was formerly the site of a large avocado orchard. Since avocados are a favorite bear treat, residents are asked by city officials to pick all ripe fruit and remove fallen avocados from the ground.

Will Smith, 62, a former aerospace executive who has lived on Gardi Street for 32 years, said he makes certain his avocado trees are kept clean. He said he is not troubled by the bears, which he said have come to recognize him over the years.

"Everybody sort of knows you don't feed, you don't water them, you don't get aggressive about them," he said Friday. "They're as nervous about you as you are about them."

Smith said he would never shoot a bear. In a dangerous situation, he said he would call sheriff's deputies to honk their horns and, if necessary, tranquilize the bear.

A couple of months ago, Smith said, a full-grown mother bear emerged from the morning shade of one of his avocado trees, leaned over the hood of his black Mercedes-Benz and looked him in the eye.

"You've got to remember they're wild animals," he said. "To most of us it's no big deal. But they're fun to watch."

Bears from Angeles National Forest last caused a stir in Bradbury in mid-May, when TV news helicopters followed a mother bear in her frantic search for a cub that briefly disappeared. Residents said the noisy helicopters overhead were bigger nuisances than the wandering bears.

Three weeks ago, a similar incident occurred when a mother bear and cub showed up at Palmer's house while her 8-year-old son, Nicholas, was celebrating his birthday with 15 friends in the backyard pool. One neighbor called authorities, who showed up and began to honk their horns to scare the bears back into the hills.

Once again, the mother was separated from her cub and rampaged through the neighborhood, frantically hopping fences as she looked for her offspring.

Palmer rushed all of the children into her house, and they watched as the mother bear eventually found her cub in an avocado tree.

Officials offered few details about last weekend's shooting, and the homeowner's name has not been released.

The Pasadena Star-News reported that the man had been complaining about the bear's aggressive behavior for several weeks, and that the state Department of Fish and Game had given him a shooting permit. Fish and Game officials did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

Residents said they are awaiting details of the weekend shooting partly to learn which of the Bradbury bears was shot.

"He must have [had] a reason" to shoot, Smith said of his neighbor.