Steamboat Springs The Colorado Division of Wildlife is looking for a few good Routt County men and women who like to talk about bears.
The volunteers on the Bear Aware Team act as points of contact for area property owners who are experiencing problems with bears, Wildlife Manager Mike Middleton said. The plan is to create a team of individuals with strong people skills and an interest in wildlife, who are prepared to deal with bear problems that can be solved with education. The Bear Aware Team should also free DOW employees to work with wildlife management and enforcement of regulations.
Middleton offered an anecdote to illustrate the kinds of contacts volunteers might get involved in.
"Not too long ago, I had a man who was threatening to kill a bear because it was leaving paw prints on his windows," Middleton said. "He was adamant that he was doing the right things -- he wasn't leaving his trash out, didn't have hummingbird feeders and wasn't feeding his pets outdoors. When I visited, I saw that he had planted strawberries all around the house."
Human-bear interactions have become more frequent in Routt County in the last decade. Middleton said he is aware of at least one den, and as many as three on the ski slopes of Mount Werner.
"A couple of years ago there was a bear that was coming out of its den every afternoon in ski season," Middleton recalled. "People were lining up on the deck (at Four Points Hut) to see the bear on Nelson's Run. That hasn't happened for a year."
Valerie Cass, a DOW spokesperson in Steamboat Springs, said there were reports of bears on decks at homes in the Dakota Ridge and Whitewood subdivisions in June, but they haven't made an appearance for two weeks. She theorized the hot weather has driven the bears to higher ground. In recent summers, the bears seemed to be staying closer to water. There were sightings along Soda Creek and the Yampa River.
Typically, when people take steps to remove items from their yards that attract bears, the problem is solved, Cass said.
"When people put their grills and bird feeders, things like that, inside, we don't hear from them again," Cass said.
Middleton said it's relatively rare for wildlife managers to have to trap and move a nuisance bear.
"We avoid that at all costs," Middleton said. "It has to be a pretty darn nasty bear before we trap them. It happens just once every other year."
DOW managers trapped a bear in the city in the summer of 2001. The animal was in a treetop along Fish Creek where U.S. 40 crosses the stream.
"That was a crowd control issue as much as anything," Middleton said. "There were just so many people overwhelming the bear."
The city of Steamboat Springs has an ordinance intended to address situations that attract bears. Community Service Supervisor Tom Whiddon said the ordinance requires people in the city to have bear resistant trash containers that have locking lids. He's only aware of three or four instances in the last two years when it was necessary to require property owners to change trash receptacles. The need didn't occur this spring.
"We try to work with people to say, 'what can we do about this?'" Whiddon said.
The city can issue citations to property owners who have repeat bear incidents and have not addressed the situation. But Whiddon said that has never happened.
Bear Aware volunteers will be offered training to give them a deeper understanding of the natural history of black bears. They'll be asked to visit homeowners and provide them with advice on how to avoid attracting bears. They'll also be asked to distribute information that will help mountain homeowners live compatibly, responsibly and peacefully with bears.
The volunteers will provide written reports of bear incidents with district wildlife managers.