Colorado man faces felony charges for shooting black bear cubs
'Young black bear' [Shutterstock]

A Colorado man may face criminal charges after shooting two black bear cubs in the foothills west of Denver, killing one of them and forcing wildlife officials to euthanize the other, authorities said on Tuesday.

The incident began early on Tuesday in the town of Evergreen when a homeowner was awakened by a mother bear and her two cubs rummaging through garbage, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The man, who was not identified by authorities, initially fired two rubber buckshot rounds from a shotgun, but when his dog ran outside, he shot at the bears with live ammunition.

"He said he was concerned about his dog's safety and he fired a third round, which was a live round," the sheriff’s office statement said.

One of the cubs was killed by the shotgun blast, and the other was seriously wounded, forcing state wildlife officers to put it down. Shotgun pellets also hit a nearby home.

The man is under investigation for a felony charge of illegally discharging a weapon and hunting a bear out of season, a misdemeanor, police said.

The cubs' mother, a 150-pound (68-kg) sow, scampered up a tree and was unharmed, said Jennifer Churchill, spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Wildlife officers are monitoring her to see that she returns safely to the wild, she added.

Churchill said heavy spring rains, followed by a late season hard frost created a shortage of the bears' normal food supply of serviceberry and chokecherry bushes, forcing the bruins to move into urban areas to forage.

"That's made it a tough food year for bears," she said.

Colorado is home to about 19,000 black bears, Churchill said, and in recent weeks hungry bruins have been spotted in several cities along northeast Colorado's urban corridor.

A black bear was captured by game wardens within the city of Denver last week, and a man in Fort Collins was charged last month with illegally possessing wildlife after he shot dead a bear outside his home.

Under Colorado law, bears cannot be killed out of season unless they are directly threatening humans or livestock. Churchill said people can ward off bears with non-lethal means, such as banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn.

"We are trying to get the word out that there are other ways to scare them off without resorting to shooting them," she said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)