A 350-pound bear from the Angeles National Forest lumbered onto a residential street Friday morning in Azusa and was killed by police, the latest casualty in the turf war between wildlife in Southern California’s mountains and the reach of urbanization into the foothills.
Although state Department of Fish and Game wardens sought to remove the bear, hitting it twice with darts filled with tranquilizers, the drugs had little effect.
The woozy bear loped past police car barricades and was felled at 7:30 a.m. by 14 shells from four shotgun-wielding officers who sped after the creature in a flatbed truck after the animal turned toward town.
“We were hoping he’d go down” from the drugs, said Azusa Police Sgt. James Collins, the officer in charge at the scene. “But at that time of day, with kids going to school, we knew . . . we were going to have to kill it.
“It was definitely a threat. It was definitely out of control,” he added.
As many as half a dozen bears wander into urban areas each year from the mountains stretching from Ventura County to San Bernardino County, said Larry Sitton, a senior biologist with the fish and game agency.
But the rare intrusions appear to be increasing as houses built snug against mountain foothills shrink open space and make people a more familiar and less threatening sight to wildlife, said Patrick Moore, an agency spokesman.
Last August two young black bears were killed in the San Bernardino Mountains after one of them mauled a 12-year-old Boy Scout. Last September a mountain lion was slain after it attacked a 10-year-old girl in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. And last month in the hills northeast of Sacramento a woman jogger died after being mauled by a cougar, which was later hunted down and killed by authorities.
The animal slain Friday was a California black bear, one of an estimated 60 adult bears that live in the Angeles National Forest, Sitton said.
The bears are not native to the region but were brought in from Yosemite and Kings Canyon in the 1920s and 1930s in an effort to preserve the species, Sitton said. California now has 3,000 to 5,000 of the bears.
The slain bear may have been looking for food. California black bears come out of hibernation from February to April and hungrily seek to pack on pounds, having lost up to two-fifths of their body weight over the winter. But at this time of year food is scarce and the bears wander, following their keen sense of smell looking for food, Sitton said.
This also is breeding season, which impels many bears to wander in search of mates, he said.
The animal apparently ambled down Hilltop Drive, which dead-ends into Glendora Ridge Mountainway, a road that leads up into the forest, neighbors said.
An Azusa police officer spotted the bear lying in the middle of Sierra Madre Avenue about 4 a.m. As the officer radioed for assistance, the bear wandered off into a cul-de-sac in the 1300 block of Alameda Court. It hunkered down in a back corner of Gil Trujillo’s carport behind Trujillo’s 21-foot ski boat and next to a neighbor’s fence.
“I looked out and I could just see the butt end of the bear sticking out from behind the boat,” said Trujillo, 65, a retired Azusa police lieutenant.
The bear wandered between the boat and Trujillo’s Cadillac as half a dozen cars and trucks from the Azusa and Glendora police departments, the Fish and Game Department and the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society blocked off the neighboring streets and surrounded the house. The bear padded back to a corner of the carport and rolled up in a ball.
After agreeing that police would have free rein to shoot if the bear broke through the perimeter, fish and game wardens at 7 a.m. fired one tranquilizer dart. Twenty minutes later they fired a second one. Neither brought down the bear, Moore said.
After the second shot, the bear stood on all fours and started walking down the driveway, said Marian Newcomb, whose house is directly across the street from Trujillo’s. But as the bear reached the street, it turned right and was able to run through a gap in the police cars, she said.
Four Azusa officers armed with 12-gauge shotguns followed the bear in a flatbed truck and shot it, Collins said.
Residents, many of whom phoned police after the bear’s death, appeared upset, Collins said.
“I don’t like the fact that we killed (the bear), but I’m going to bed tonight knowing nobody got hurt,” Collins said. “Unfortunately, my duty to human life outweighs my duty to animals.”
Newcomb, a 70-year-old retiree who watched the bear escape her cul-de-sac, shook her head when she talked about the shooting.
“People build homes in mountainous areas and then act surprised when animals come to their homes,” she said. “But these are the animals’ homes.”
“What’s happening is we’re driving the animals out of their habitats,” said 12-year-old Alex Sandoval, who had gathered an ashtray full of spent shells and strands of hair from his driveway, where the bear had fallen.
Times staff writer Vicki Torres contributed to this report.