Donna Munson's body had been partially eaten by a bear or bears when it was found outside her home in Ouray County, in southwestern Colorado, on Friday, but Colorado Division of Wildlife officials couldn't immediately confirm what caused her death.
County Sheriff Dominic Mattivi said Monday that an autopsy, performed in neighboring Montrose County, showed Munson had scratches and maul marks consistent with being attacked by a bear. She had no signs of heart damage, ruling out the possibility that she died of a heart attack before being attacked, Mattivi said.
State wildlife officers had received "numerous" complaints during the past decade that Munson was feeding bears. But she never was ticketed, partly because wooded hills around her property made it hard to gather evidence to prove it, said division spokesman Tyler Baskfield.
"It's a well-known fact that people were feeding (bears) at this residence," Baskfield said.
A letter from the Division of Wildlife to Munson dated April 7, 2008, said officers talked with her at least three times between July 22, 2004 and Sept. 13, 2007, about Colorado laws that prohibit placing feed out for bears.
Baskfield said Munson started ignoring wildlife officers' calls and stopped letting them on her property, and views from neighbors' homes were obscured by the foliage.
Authorities aren't sure whether the bear that killed Munson is still roaming the neighborhood.
Sheriff's deputies investigating Munson's death shot a 250-pound bear that aggressively approached them Saturday, and wildlife officers killed a 394-pound bear. A necropsy showed that the larger bear appeared to have been feeding on a human, but Mattivi said that he's asked officials at the University of Wyoming to confirm that. It's not known if that's the bear that killed Munson.
Witnesses have spotted up to 14 bears at a time around Munson's property over the years, wildlife officials said.
One of Munson's daughters, Melanie Allum-Milne, told The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction that her mother loved animals and was starting to get dementia.
Baskfield said wildlife lovers may believe they are helping bears by feeding them, but the opposite is true. Feeding bears can teach them to look for food around humans, he said.
It increases the risk that bears could confront humans, enter homes, or be killed by cars as they look for food. "They are no longer wild animals at that point. They're no longer behaving the way they should," Baskfield said.
Feeding bears is punishable with a $100 fine for a first offense or a $1,000 fine for a third offense. Baskfield said it's unclear if that would have deterred Munson.