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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Experts say Colorado’s bears are becoming more shameless. Here’s what you need to know.

Experts say Colorado bears seem a bit bold at first in some parts of the state and others, roaming trails, city streets and even homes or restaurants in search of easy food.

The reasons vary from region to region. In the Southwest, their natural food—nuts and berries—appear to be in short supply at this time of year, according to Brian Peterson, executive director of Bear Smart Durango, so they are on the lookout for a quick meal.

or to the north, around Steamboat Springs, bears have lost their natural fear of humans, so they feel empowered to break into homes, garages and even restaurant patios more often than usual, Kristi Bubenheim of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said, .

There are probably more people around, hiking, camping and skipping meals, which attracts the bears, said Michel Witte, director of nature education at the Netherlands’ Wild Bear Nature Center.

Whatever the reason, Coloradans should be aware of the animals they share the kingdom with and take precautions to keep themselves and the bears safe, experts agree. Because when bears have attacked — and even killed — people in Colorado first, the vast majority of human-bear encounters actually end poorly for bears.

“We’ve had to put down two bears in the last few weeks,” Bubenheim said. “Once they have learned the behavior of going home over and over again, it is impossible to train it from them.”

Between 2015 and 2021, Colorado Parks and Wildlife euthanized 775 bears and another 402 were captured and relocated, according to data provided by department spokesman Jason Clay.

Bubenheim said the best way for people to reduce bear encounters, euthanasia and relocation is to protect easy food sources and try to scare the animals away.

Peterson said that typically in the Durango region, bear activity tends to tick upward in mid-August. But the environment is “super dry” right now, which means it’s not so easy to find lots of natural bear food. So the animals are on the move much earlier than usual, looking for whatever they can eat.

Courtesy of Bear Smart Durango A bear was caught near Durango in 2019.

They said they would sneak into unsafe garbage cans, chicken coops or even homes if they could.

“Most bears want to avoid people,” Peterson said. “But in these tough meal times they take risks and spend more time around people and homes because there’s more food.”

To the north, in Raute County, Bubenheim said there is more natural food around, but bears will still go after the easy food that humans leave for them. This can be as simple as an unprotected birdfeeder, but it can also mean busting out a first-floor window screen.

Earlier this month, a bear wandered the patio of Sunpi’s Bistro, Steamboat Pilot & Today reported, before heading to Aurum Food & Wine’s dining area. And last month another bear broke into the lobby of a local resort after employees left a door open to catch the wind, the pilot reported. Bubenheim said the number of bear encounters this year is down, but the “significance” of the encounters has increased, meaning “more bears are coming into our homes and causing more problems than just sighting.”

“It seems like they’re a little more shameless this year,” she said.

To date, Clay said, people have reported about 722 bear “visions and conflicts” this year. This is down from 1,042 this time last year, 804 in 2020 and 903 in 2019. But there is still time for that number to rise further.

The “significance” of those encounters is increasing, Bubenheim said, likely because black bears in the region were raised near people and are no longer feared. Rather, they probably expect humans to take pictures of them more than anything else.

“They’re like, ‘Okay, that’s cool, I don’t mind taking my picture,'” Bubenheim said.

Bubenheim said people who encountered the bear could take still photos.

“But then scare the cat with that bear,” she said.

Courtesy Of Bear Smart Durango A House In Durango After A Bear Broke Into The Kitchen In 2019.
Courtesy of Bear Smart Durango A house in Durango after a bear broke into the kitchen in 2019.

That means honking your horn, shouting, throwing rocks and showing your arms big, Bubenheim said. As long as you can do so from a safe distance.

Same thing if you’re hiking or camping, Witte said. Clap your hands, clap your arms and shout for the bear to go away.

“They’re big ‘ol scary cats and they’ll run away from that,” Witte said.

And with a little luck they’ll remember the experience and live far into the future, Witte said. It’s like training a dog.

Bubenheim said people living near bear populations should put locks on their litter boxes and make sure ground-level doors and windows are secure. Screens aren’t enough to keep bears out.

“It’s been very hot and I’d love to sleep with my windows open,” Peterson said. “But I can’t. I live in really nice bear housing and I don’t want bears in my house.”

Bird feeders and chicken coops also make easy targets, Peterson said.

Witte said people hiking should make a loud noise when moving to scare away the bears. Talk, sing or even ring the bell. Animals will avoid those noises.

World Nation News Desk
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