Week highlights bear awareness

Residents reminded that garbage can be dangerous for the animal

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— Less than a dozen bear sightings have been reported to local wildlife officials, which is less than the number of sightings reported last spring.

Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Libbie Miller said part of the reason the number of encounters with bears is down is because people are becoming more aware of protecting bears from human food in the garbage. If gone unchecked, a bear can incorporate a garbage route into its eating habits, which results in the bear and its offspring becoming dependent on humans for food.

Though awareness is getting better, Miller said there still are some problems.

"A lot of our sightings this year are in new developments," she said.

New residents who move into homes in recently finished housing subdivisions aren't used to wildlife at their back doors, Miller said.

Of all the sightings, all but one have been of the same sow and her yearly cub. Both are black bears, which is typically the only type of bear that lives in Colorado. Black bears are between 4 feet and 6 feet long and weigh between 200 pounds and 450 pounds. They may be black, brown or even cinnamon in color.

To help inform people all around the state about the dangers of leaving garbage out for bears, Gov. Bill Owens has declared this week Bear Awareness Week.

Colorado has between 8,000 and 12,000 black bears that are now emerging from their winter hibernation. Last year, landowners reported killing 106 bears, more than twice as many as in any previous year. Wildlife officers killed another 31 bears, below the previous high of 40 in 1995.

Wildlife officials hope Bear Awareness Week will reduce those numbers.

"The biggest thing for people to understand is the fact that we aren't aggressively relocating the animals," Miller said.

She explained that residents who live in Colorado need to realize that the place they call home is the same place bears and other wild animals call home.

Locally, DOW officials will visit schools to talk about bears as part of the awareness week.

Miller also is looking forward to a discussion with the Steamboat Springs City Council about possibly implementing an ordinance to force residents and business owners to put trash in bear-proof containers and to put the trash out only the morning of trash pickup.

"This is purely in the developmental phase," Miller said.

Many towns and counties have similar ordinances, including Basalt, Snowmass, Pitkin County and Aspen.

In Aspen, residents face a $50 fine for their first offense and a $250 fine and court appearance for second and third offenses if their trash cans aren't animal proof.

"The biggest challenge we've had is when we first started doing this, we didn't know how to implement it," Aspen Environmental Health Director Lee Cussin said. "We needed to make sure people understood what we were doing."

Once the city made it clear it was serious about the ordinance, residents began to take it seriously and property managers and business owners made sure their employees knew it was important.

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