Don't feed the bears

Close encounters prompt tough talk from DOW

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— The life of a young black bear is at risk because of human recklessness, Colorado Division of Wildlife officials said Monday.

Recently, the young bear -- 1 or 2 years old -- charged an adult eating a sandwich in the Bear River corridor southwest of Yampa.

No one was injured, but the juvenile bear's comfort around humans is alarming, officials said. But it isn't surprising considering campers reportedly have been hand-feeding the bear, said Oscar Martinez, district ranger for Yampa.

"People thought it was cute," he said.

The DOW has not made a final decision about the bear's fate, but there is a possibility the animal will be destroyed. Relocation is not an attractive option for a young bear that would struggle in foreign ground with an already established population.

"If the bear is destroyed, it will be because of people's inability to change their behavior," said Libbie Miller, district wildlife manager.

Since late June, a mature adult black bear and the young black bear have been spotted along the Bear River corridor off Routt County Road 7 and Forest Service Road 900.

There are conflicting reports that another bear also has worked its way into the campgrounds, Miller said.

The DOW deemed the issue so important that Miller, Martinez and area wildlife manager Susan Werner met Monday to discuss appropriate behavior and the consequences for ignoring or not knowing rules and regulations.

"If you see people doing things that are contrary to what our message is, we are wanting to cite people for attracting wildlife," Miller said.

Many campers know food left outside will attract bears, but it isn't just food that is piquing the bears' curiosity. Anything with an odor, including toiletries, sunscreen and bug repellent, is enticing to a bear, which has a sense of smell 100 times that of a human, Werner said.

In addition, a bear is intelligent enough to remember where food is stored.

Consequently, the DOW reminds people they must store all food, garbage, grills, stoves, utensils, pet food, bird feeders and toiletries inside a hard-sided camper or inside a motor vehicle with closed windows when not in use.

"Once (a bear figures) out what a cooler is, it doesn't matter if they get bacon, sweets or soda pop," Miller said.

The DOW has started issuing citations, and it will continue to do so. Stricter camping guidelines likely are coming in the Bear River corridor, Martinez said.

"It doesn't give us a lot of flexibility," Miller said. "It's cute now. It gets bigger. It sets up the bear for an encounter down the road that won't be pleasant."

A more serious bear encounter occurred Saturday on the Grand Mesa near Powderhorn Resort.

The bear entered a woman's tent. When she moved, it took a swipe at her. The woman yelled at the bear, and it fled, but not before the animal left a gash in the woman's right thigh that needed 12 stitches, DOW spokesman Randy Hampton told the Associated Press on Sunday.

No such situations have been reported in the Bear River corridor -- where Miller said there is a "healthy" bear population -- but a young bear charging for a sandwich is a discouraging sign, she said.

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