By Mary O’KEEFE
Meatball, the CV-loving bear, will not be moving to a wildlife Colorado sanctuary as planned, according to Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.
Meatball, the bear who received his name for his fondness for meatballs, had been a fixture in Crescenta Valley for several months.
Though he had been captured and returned to the Angeles National Forest twice, he kept coming back to Crescenta Valley. On Aug. 29 he was captured again and this time taken to a wildlife facility near San Diego where he was to await his transfer to a Colorado sanctuary.
“The Colorado law has changed,” Hughan said. Meatball does not fall into the correct category of captive animal that is apparently required by the law.
“A captive animal would be a bear that has lived in captivity all of his life,” said Jen Jenkins, spokeswoman for Lions, Tigers and Bears. “We are not sure if he will get along with other bears.”
The Alpine facility is not equipped for a long-term stay by Meatball, but at present he is safe and secure, Hughan said.
“He is in a small cage,” he added, “but it is much better than the alternative.”
On Aug. 26, a smaller bear, about 160 pounds, was struck by a vehicle in the 400 block of Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada. That bear ran off into some bushes and was later found in the area. He had to be euthanized.
So though Meatball may not be in the most spacious facility, he is at least safe.
The bear had become very familiar with locals as he roamed the neighborhoods, eating meatballs and chicken from garage refrigerators and dining on garbage cuisine.
This type of behavior is not uncommon.
“The animals are coming down [into residential areas] looking for food. There is not a lot of food source on the mountains,” said Nathan Judy, spokesman for U.S. Forest Service, Angeles National Forest.
Many hikers and campers have taken advantage of the trails in ANF that have recently opened after a long closure due to the Station Fire.
“They (campers/hikers) are leaving larger amounts of trash on the trails,” Judy said.
Bears will eat that trash, recognize that smell and, at times, follow it into residential areas.
“If bears see [or get] food from a cooler, they will recognize coolers as a place for food,” he added. “They are very smart.”
The U.S. Forest Service has developed bear resistant trashcans, and many of them are in picnic and camping areas. But even with those resistant trash bins, bears soon learn the key to opening them. The USFS continues to work on new methods of keeping the garbage away from the bears’ dinner table. But the best way to keep bears from hunting the garbage is for hikers and campers to walk their trash out of the area.
“Humans are bringing [the garbage here]. [Bears] smell that scent and follow it [down the] mountain,” Judy said.
Seeing bears, coyotes and mountain lions in the Crescenta Valley is something residents have gotten used to, but Meatball became familiar with the area and did not show fear of humans. That became a concern for Fish and Game so the last time he was captured it was determined he would be safer at a wilderness sanctuary.
Although his future dwelling may be in flux, Hughan said Meatball’s well being is still of utmost importance.
“This bear has the highest priority to the [Fish and Game] department,” Hughan said. “Everything that can be done will be done.”
“He will be staying in California,” he added.
Whether or not Colorado will make an exception for the bear is not known.
“We are evaluating all options,” Hughan said.