Bear Prompts School Lockdown in Verdi

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VERDI, NV - School lockdowns happen for various reasons, but the threat Wednesday morning to Verdi Elementary was anything but average. In fact, it was four-legged.

Verdi is just steps away from wilderness, so a bear sighting doesn't really come as a surprise for people in the area. But when that bear ends up at a school with lots of kids carrying lunch boxes full of food, that hungry bear is cause for concern.

"We got a phone call from a parent that lives just across the way saying that there was a bear right in her front yard area and her students were going to be late coming to school," said Kristie Martin, teacher at Verdi Elementary.

The bear causing the problem was across the street. It found a bird feeder and was having some breakfast.

"Just being wildlife, you never know what their reaction is going to be and if they are going to be spooked," said Martin.

For safety's sake, administrators called school police and locked down the campus.

"The last thing we want them to do is think that they can approach that bear. So for everyone's safety, including the bear's, get everybody in," said Mike Mieres, Chief of Police for the Washoe County School District.

Mieres says this is actually the 3rd bear-related lockdown this year. The other two were at Incline schools.

"In the bear's case, they wander off and leave the school grounds or at times they have had to tranquilize them," said Mieres.

At Verdi Elementary, this is the third bear lockdown in four years. Usually though, bear sightings don't happen till the fall, the time when bears are bulking up for winter.

"We don't think, because of 3 years of drought, that we are going to have enough natural food for the bears to sustain themselves and get all the calories they are going to need," said Chris Healy with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Healy says this is just the start of it. We'll see lots of bears in lots of places as we move throughout the year.

"We're expecting a really big bear year. We're expecting people to see bears in places they have not seen them in a while," said Healy.

The lockdown moved pretty smoothly Wednesday morning. Kids already on campus were taken inside and kept there. Kids arriving on buses were moved to Cabella's until the threat passed. As for the bear, it left on its own and disappeared back into the wilderness.