The end of winter marks a changing of the guard of sorts -- skiers and snowboarders return control of the mountains to area bears waking from five months of hibernation.
Two weeks ago, local Col-orado Division of Wildlife officials received their first report of a bear sighting, meaning Routt County residents need to be alert as bears emerge from hibernation and begin their relentless search for food.
"It will take the bears roughly two weeks to adjust their digestive tracks following hibernation, said Libbie Miller, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "There's two elements to their early spring feeding -- lots of water and natural available foods like new grass and dandelions. After that they become opportunistic and may become reliant on any food sources they can find."
Steamboat Springs borders the habitat of three large black bear populations, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said.
"Pretty much everywhere in Steamboat is very conducive to bear interaction because there's lots of mountain brush habitat where they find their common food sources," Miller said.
Residents concerned about the possibility of coming in contact with bears can take a few simple preventive measures.
"The bottom line is, keep human food sources unavailable. It's simple --take care of your trash, put it in a bear-proof container, don't leave trash out at night, and if you have to leave it out, do it as close to pick-up time as possible," Hampton said.
Hampton said people should clean outdoor grills after use and avoid feeding their pets outdoors. Bird feeders also attract bears. If you spot a bear, keep your distance, put your pets inside and report the sighting -- especially if the bear is destroying property or becoming aggressive -- to the DOW office in Steamboat by calling 870-2197.
Hampton also urged residents to spread the "bear-proofing" message to Steamboat's "significant transient population that visits from urban, bearless area and who may not have the information."
Within the city limits of Steam-boat, it is illegal to store refuse outside except from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on garbage collection days.
"You may only store garbage in containers deemed 'wildlife-proof' by the CDOW. An old garbage can with a bungee cord won't cut it. They're commercially available at most the hardware stores in town," interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said.
Call the DOW or DuBord at 879-2060 for more information.
-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129 or e-mail email@example.com