Mother of three young children is facing backlash from neighbors and social media vitriol for having a bear shot and killed last week after it repeatedly barged into her home in the San Bernardino Mountains.
But Julie Faith Strauja, 34, said she doesn’t regret having a friend shoot the bear on July 31 outside her Forest Falls cabin with permission from state wildlife officials.
“It was a decision I had to make for the safety and welfare of my children and my home,” Strauja told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “I tried to use non-lethal ways of dealing with him. But nothing was stopping him, and I just didn’t think there was any other option.”
Some residents of Forest Falls, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, have criticized Strauja, and others have threatened her online. But state wildlife authorities, who issued her a permit to kill the animal, say she did nothing wrong.
“The bear was inside the house, which satisfies every requirement under state law and policy for it to be destroyed,” said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Strauja said she tried other measures after the bear got into the garage of her A-frame cabin last month and pulled out her trash bins. She locked up her trash, but the bear returned. She yelled at the animal and sprayed it with a hose, but it kept coming back.
Then, on July 29, Strauja arrived home with her children, ages 5, 6 and 9, to find the bear inside her kitchen. She called 911.
Hughan said a game warden visited the property that evening and found the cabin damaged and fur on the windows where the bear had entered. The warden issued Strauja a depredation permit, which allows an animal to be killed if it causes property damage or poses a threat to life and safety.
The bear returned later that night. Strauja tried to shoo it away with pepper spray, but it got inside the home through a bathroom window. The next day, she called a friend who is a hunter to keep watch.
That night, the bear came charging back toward the house, waking everyone up. Sometime before 2 a.m., shots rang out and the bear was killed.
Hughan said such incidents are not unusual in communities like Forest Falls that sit on the edge of bear habitat. He said the fish and wildlife department issues dozens, if not hundreds, of permits each year to California residents to protect their families, livestock and property from damage by bears, mountain lions and other wild animals.
Strauja, an avowed animal lover who moved to Forest Falls last month, called it “a tragedy that he lost his life” and said she wasn’t prepared for the harsh reaction she would face.
“There kind of was a mob mentality,” she said. “People walking by my house yelling ‘bear killer’ and obscenities.”
Strauja collected screenshots of a series of threatening and expletive-laden Facebook messages criticizing her over the killing of the bear. Some included her home address. Others called her a “flatlander” with “no business living on the hill,” and vowed to run her out of town and “make her life a living hell.”
Forest Falls resident Alycia Wheeler, 48, said in an interview that she was “crushed” to learn of the killing when she saw a photo of the dead bear posted on Facebook. She recognized it as the animal she had seen roaming her yard almost daily and had named Big Red for the distinct color of its fur.
Wheeler doesn’t blame Strauja but worries she did not exhaust all other options before going to the extreme of killing the animal.
“We need to protect people, but we also need to protect the bears,” said Wheeler, who has started an online campaign to raise money for educational materials, signs, bear-proof trash cans and other tools to prevent fatalities in the future.
“People who are visitors or they’re new to the area, they don’t understand that we cohabitate with bears — that’s just the way it is up here,” Wheeler said.
Hughan, of the fish and wildlife department, advised residents in bear country to take all the precautions they can, such as locking up trash bins, to keep the animals away from their homes.
“Once a bear is habituated, once it starts eating people food and going into houses, it’s not going to unlearn that behavior,” Hughan said. “This is not a bear problem. This is a people problem.”
Hughan also urged the public not to “rush to judgment in cases like this if you don’t know the facts. If you had a bear in your house and your children were with you, put yourselves in her shoes.”
Tony Barboza, latimes.com | Photo: Terry Pierson
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