Battle to build a home for 'Meatball' gains momentum

Meatball the bear was an ursus non grata when he was in the local foothills, but now wildlife sanctuaries are fighting to house the 400-pound bruin.

A sanctuary in San Diego County launched a major fundraising effort Monday to try to keep Meatball, also known by his Twitter handle Glen Bearian, while a Colorado sanctuary is suing to overturn the law that blocks it from bringing the black bear to the Rocky Mountain State.

This summer California Fish and Game authorities twice sent Meatball deep into the Angeles National Forest after he was caught snacking on trash and swimming in pools in Glendale and La Crescenta. Last month they trapped him in La Cañada Flintridge using a McDonald's Happy Meal, some honey and bacon as bait.

The bear was shipped to Lions, Tigers & Bears, a sanctuary in Alpine. After what was expected to be a brief stay at that San Diego County sanctuary, Meatball was ticketed for a permanent home at the Wild Animal Sanctuary outside Denver.

However, that plan ran afoul of a law governing parks and wildlife in Colorado that states that no animal “taken from the wild shall be possessed by any sanctuary.”

Wild Animal Sanctuary officials filed suit to block the state from enforcing the law and have encouraged supporters to call or write Colorado officials to ask them to let Meatball become a Colorado resident.

Meanwhile, officials at Lions, Tigers & Bears want to construct an open-air facility for Meatball and are seeking donations. The sanctuary has the land, but not the tens of thousands of dollars it would need to build the habitat, which ideally would include a swimming pool.

Officials at both sanctuaries say they can provide the better home.

“Meatball's life is hanging in the balance,” said Katie Vandegrift, spokeswoman for the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

On Tuesday, California Department of Fish and Game officials, who have jurisdiction over Meatball, announced that they did not intend to transport the bear to Colorado “out of respect for Colorado law.”

The agency added that the search for a permanent home for Meatball “may take some time.”

But even with Meatball out of the San Gabriel Mountains, local residents continue to see bears.

On Sunday a 200-pound female black bear caused a ruckus in La Crescenta, forcing authorities to temporarily shut down the Foothill (210) Freeway.

Authorities tranquilized the bear a few blocks south of the freeway, gave her an ear tag marked by the number 520, and dropped her off deeper into the Angeles National Forest than Meatball went the first time around.

California Fish and Game Capt. Mike Stefanak said he hoped she wouldn't return. Meatball made it a habit to search for human food, he said, while the female bear most likely got lost.

“This isn't anywhere near a Meatball situation,” he said.

Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ or Twitter: @brittanylevine

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