A bear on the Riverview Elementary School campus led to a three-hour lockout Wednesday morning. School continued with business as usual.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Durango Police Department and Durango Fire Protection District all responded.
“The bear was in a tree, and he decided to go higher after we tranquilized him,” said Drayton Harrison, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “He found a really nice place to take a nap.”
That required assistance from Durango Fire to get the bear down from the tree with Ladder 2 and relocate it to a more appropriate location.
Getting a bear out of a tree is a bit different than the historical image of firefighters rescuing kittens.
“We don’t go to bear calls very often,” DFPD Fire Marshal Karola Hanks said with a laugh. “It’s out of our normal area of expertise.”
Harrison said the bear, which he called a “geriatric male,” was relocated 30 to 40 miles west of Dolores.
“This is a quandary everyone in the state faces, because there aren’t great places to take them, a lot of their habitat is occupied,” Harrison said. “We try to take them to good bear habitat, although I haven’t had good luck with that. I’ve had a bear return in as little as 10 days.”
Julie Popp, spokeswoman for Durango School District 9-R, said this is a good time to explain the difference between lockouts and lockdowns.
“Lockouts happen when there may be a threat in the area such as criminal activity,” she said. “It can be four or five blocks away, and it’s a precaution.”
In a lockout, the perimeter doors of a school are locked, and all outside activities such as recess are canceled. This lockout was somewhat different, Principal Doug Geygan told parents in a letter to be sent home with Riverview students Wednesday.
“Today we adjusted the lockout, and front doors remained unlocked allowing parents to enter the building,” he said in the letter. “We felt this was an appropriate adjustment since there was not a threat of the animal entering the building.”
In a lockdown, there is a possible threat inside the school building. Interior doors are locked, and teachers are instructed to get themselves and their students to a safe place and maintain silence.
The school notified parents about the bear-related lockout early afternoon through its Infinite Campus portal. The letter being sent home with students also gives some tips about safely interacting with wildlife.
Riverview reminded parents, particularly those whose children walk to school, that “wildlife should not be harassed, captured, domesticated or fed.”
This was the third lockout because of wildlife since school started Aug. 24 at 9-R elementary schools, Popp said. The earlier incidents involved a mountain lion at Florida Mesa Elementary School and a bear at Fort Lewis Mesa Elementary School. In both those cases, the animals were not on the school campus but in the area.