Bear sneaks into Steamboat home |

Bear sneaks into Steamboat home

Dakota Ridge incident indicative of increased spring encounters


A bear cub returns June 9 to the kitchen window where it gained entry to the Arlene and Mike Zopf home in Dakota Ridge. This time the window was locked.
Courtesy Photo

— Mike and Arlene Zopf are accustomed to seeing bears around their Steamboat Springs home, but Tuesday afternoon marked the first time a bear entered their home and helped himself to the porridge — or in this case, oatmeal and apples.

The issue became more serious when the same yearling cub returned and operated the lever on the Zopfs’ door to let himself in. The bear even returned a third time after Colorado Division of Wildlife officials left the Zopfs with some specific advice.

“Until I saw it, I wouldn’t have believed how many times the bear would try and get into the house,” Arlene Zopf said Wednesday. “He circled the house over and over, banged on every window and tried every door handle.”

The small bear was first discovered when Mike Zopf returned to their home in the Dakota Ridge subdivision at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and entered his house through the garage to find a piece of apple on the floor. When he entered the kitchen, he saw the bear on a kitchen counter, in the process of squeezing through a 6-inch opening in a roll-out window he’d apparently used to enter the home.

The bear had opened a bread drawer, the cupboard under the sink and a trash compactor to get at food.

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Mike Zopf was away when the bear entered the garage Wednesday morning. Zopf later expressed chagrin that he didn’t think to lock the door.

“We care about wildlife and don’t want to do anything to hurt the bear,” he said.

Local DOW officials advised the Zopfs to buy carpet tacking and affix it to deck railings and even small window ledges the bear had used to gain access to the house. And they told the Zopfs that even if the DOW trapped the bear and moved it many miles away, it would surely return.

District Wildlife Manager Libbie Miller said she and her colleagues dropped off a baited pepper barrel on the Zopfs’ property to help convince the animal to stay away.

When the bear enters the barrel, it trips a trigger that gives it a blast of pepper spray in the face.

“It’s a deterrent mechanism that’s really unpleasant for the bear,” Miller said.

DOW officials are dealing with an increase in bear issues this spring — even considering how frequent those problems have become in recent years. Miller said a number of the issues for homeowners have involved exterior doors with levers instead of knobs.

She theorized that bears that stand on their hind feet and lean on the windows of doors sometimes brush the door handles with their paws when they drop to all fours. As a result, they inadvertently open the door.

The bears are smart enough to associate cause and effect.

“They figure that out really quickly,” Miller said.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail

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