A Colorado homeowner who allegedly shot two black bear cubs, killing one and wounding the other so severely that it had to be euthanized, was charged on Thursday with two felonies that could send him to prison, prosecutors said.
Daniel Clay Williams, 50, was charged with illegally discharging a weapon and aggravated animal cruelty, both felonies, and six misdemeanor counts stemming from the shooting, the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.
Police said Williams was awakened early on Tuesday morning by a mother bear and her two cubs foraging through trash cans outside his home in Evergreen, a mountain town in the foothills west of Denver.
Williams allegedly fired two rubber buckshot rounds from his shotgun to haze the bruins, but when his dog ran outside he fired a third time with a live round, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
Police said Williams told them he was concerned for his dog's safety. The shotgun blast struck the two cubs, fatally striking one and seriously wounding the other.
Officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife who responded to the scene later put down the wounded cub. The sow climbed a nearby tree where she perched for several hours before returning to the woods, the sheriff's office said.
Shotgun pellets also broke the window of a nearby "occupied house," authorities said.
The misdemeanor charges include three counts of hunting black bears out of season, two counts of illegal possession of wildlife and one count of shooting from a public road, the district attorney's statement said.
Colorado has about 19,000 black bears. Heavy spring rains and a late hard frost have led to a lack of the bruins' staple foods, serviceberry and chokecherry bushes, Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said.
The wild crop shortage has forced the bears to move into human populated areas to search for food, Churchill said, leading to an increase in the number of bears spotted in several cities in eastern Colorado, including Denver and its suburbs.
Wildlife officials said people can ward off bears with non-lethal means, such as banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn.
If convicted of the felony charges, Williams faces a maximum 4-1/2 years in prison, prosecutors said, and separately the misdemeanor counts carry "a potential county jail sentence and significant fines."
An initial court date will be set for Williams once he is served with the felony warrant, prosecutors said.