Lean summer may mean fewer cubs

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— Local wildlife managers say that a late spring frost will impact bear populations in Routt County.
Recently, Colorado Division of Wildlife officials have reported that lack of food in the forests of the Front Range, the Colorado River Basin and the Roaring Fork Basin will reduce the number of bear cubs born next spring in Colorado.
"That's the same thing here," local DOW area manager Jim Haskins said. "I suspect that we will have sows going (into hibernation) in bad condition."
When that happens, the fertilized egg in a female bear will not implant into the uterus, so the pregnancy doesn't take. That is a natural occurrence if the bear doesn't have enough fat in its body to produce milk for the cub.
Area manager Mike Middleton said the primarily reason for the lack of food was a late frost in the spring time that killed the buds of plants that produce bear food.
"The (bears) I've seen are down in fat from what they would normally be at this time of the year," he said.
Bears eat berries, acorns and grass. Typically, the animals eat 20 hours a day to save up enough fat to make it through the winter. They often find a good spot with lots of Gambel oak and gorge on its acorns for weeks, Middleton said.
"This year, there's not an acorn to be found," he said.
Middleton added that the problem may not be as dramatic as people fear, but there most likely will be some impact on population.
"I'm sure, in some areas, we may take a pretty good hit," he said.
But officials won't know for a couple of years how big a hit it will be. That won't be evident until spring's cubs can be seen in the adult population.
"It's kind of a crap shoot," Haskins said.
However, the lack of food has immediately impacted the number of bears killed by hunters so far this year.
"We've been seeing hunters take a few more bears than normal this year," Middleton said.
The lack of food has made the bears more active in the forest because they are looking for something to eat. That increases the chance the animal will be spotted by a hunter, Middleton said.
Depending on the weather, it will be at least a month before the bears go into hibernation. A fat sow will go to sleep for the winter in the third week of October, while males and thinner females might wait until mid-November to hit the hay.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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