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Bad news bears caught chugging beer and munching melons.

Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

Who among us couldn't help but chuckle at the story out of Washington state last week about the black bear passed out on the lawn of Baker Lake Resort - surrounded by dozens of empty beer cans?

Having been weaned on "Land of Sky Blue Waters" television ads, I knew bears liked beer.

If you missed the story, a beer-drinking bear apparently got into campers' coolers at Baker Lake and swiped several six-packs of Rainier beer. The Associated Press quoted a Washington fish and wildlife agent as saying the bear apparently used his claws and teeth to puncture the cans, then slurped up the contents.

(One friend of mine even saw political significance in the fact the bruin sampled one can of Busch beer but left several others untouched. "He had a definite preference for Rainier," the wildlife agent said.)

The beery bear was eventually chased off, but it returned to the campground the next day. So biologists trapped it - using doughnuts, honey and a couple of open cans of Rainier beer as bait - and hauled it off to the woods.

End of story?

Not really. The incident at Baker Lake is just one of several recent examples of bear-orism. Such attacks are likely to increase with the onset of fall, biologists say, as bears go on feeding frenzies to fatten up for winter.

Here are the bear facts on this trend, as reported by several newspapers:

While beer was the target of opportunity in Washington, watermelons and/or rock music were the drawing card in a bear invasion last week in Colorado. The Grand Junction Sentinel reports the Colorado Division of Wildlife trapped a 350-pound bear that had eaten 11 watermelons in one night from the garden of Eldon Nihues.

The melon-munching bear ignored the raucous rock music blaring from a radio hung in a nearby plum tree. The radio had proven very effective at scaring raccoons and deer away from the garden, Nihues said.

"That's the only bear in the country probably that had rock-'n'-roll music with his dinner," he said.

Meanwhile, another nearby agriculturist called on the Colorado wildlife agency to help save his peach orchard, in which a sow and her yearling cub were dining.

"They tear the trees apart when they get into them," the grower said. "They don't gingerly pick the peaches."

All told, the Colorado agency has had to trap and "relocate" eight bears in the past two weeks.

A ninth case didn't end so happily for a bear that developed a knack for breaking into cabins in search of food.

According to the Denver Post, Division of Wildlife officials decided they couldn't take any chances with a 6-year-old bear that had a close encounter with a 29-year-old man who went to check on a friend's cabin about 10 miles north of DeBeque.

The bear had ransacked the cabin and was eating powdered hot chocolate mix when Chris Marx walked in the door. The bear snarled at Marx and bit into his cowboy boot after he jumped on the top of a bunk bed. Marx said he kicked the bear in the head with his free foot and escaped without further harm.

Wildlife agents trapped the bear nearby and killed it.

"You can make a bear move on, but the next cabin he comes across he's going to look for food there - it's a human safety situation," a department spokesman told the Post.

Colorado officials attributed the unusually high number of bear problems to drought, which has left bears in some areas with little to eat.

California officials, meanwhile, have no idea what led a 250-pound black bear to a garage in Thousand Oaks, a populous upscale suburb of Los Angeles.

Neighbors called the sheriff's department about 6 a.m. when a black bear was spotted wandering through a development near the 23 Freeway, about two miles south of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

The area is about 20 miles south of the Los Padres National Forest, the bear's presumed home.

Deputies saw the bear go into Salid Haddad's backyard and enter his garage. They shut the door behind it. Three hours later, California Department of Fish and Game agents raised the garage door just enough to shoot the bear with a tranquilizer dart.

Bears rarely wander so far into populated areas, the Daily News said, although one was found this past May close to Agoura Hills, near the Ventura Freeway and about 5 miles away from the site of last week's bearscapade.

The Agoura Hills bear had roamed from yard to yard, climbing trees and even lounging in a hot tub before it was tranquilized and removed by the Department of Fish and Game.

Oregon bears have not been making the news wires, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are well-behaved.

Don Whittaker, who oversees the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's bear program, says the department typically has 200 to 250 bears a year killed because of the damage they have caused or because they pose a threat to human safety.

"Our biggest issue with bears being where they're not supposed to be are garbage, birdfeeders and beehives," he said. "They also get into orchards and grain storage facilities."

Misbehaving bears in Oregon don't get second chances.

"With bears, their belly runs their life," Whittaker said. "They get one reward and they don't forget it. Trapping and moving them is not a very effective management strategy."

So if you don't want to see bears killed, keep your beer locked up.

Or, switch to Busch.

Mike Stahlberg can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 2, 2004
Words:947
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