Officials stress compliance as bear problem grows

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A bear walks across the front porch of a home located on the Sheraton Steamboat Golf Course this spring. The bear had climbed through a pet door to get to a trash can that was inside the garage.

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DOW - Sonia Marzec/courtesy

A young bear digs through a dumpster near a new shopping center in west Glenwood Springs earlier this summer. City, county and state officials recently have been fielding dozens of calls a day about bears in trash, in yards and sniffing around homes as bears search for food to fatten up before entering hibernation. Department of Wildlife and Steamboat Springs Police Department officials are stepping up code enforcement in an effort to mitigate the city's bear problems.

— A mother black bear was euthanized Monday after she was caught in a trap on the side of a Steamboat Springs lawn after breaking into at least four homes. Two bears were put down in Grand Junction this week, as were two in Aspen - one that reportedly broke into a school and one that broke into a home through a closed window. A bear was killed by a motorist as it was crossing U.S. Highway 40 at the base of Rabbit Ears Pass on Thursday night. A bicyclist hit a bear after it darted in front of him on Fish Creek Falls Road on Friday. A bear reportedly killed several sheep in the Flat Tops Wilderness area south of Hayden.

City, county and state officials recently have been fielding dozens of calls a day about bears in trash, in yards and sniffing around homes.

And there is no end in sight.

Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife, said the presence of bears spans beyond Routt County to include neighboring areas.

"It's not been a very good week anywhere," he said Friday afternoon.

Living in Routt County, residents are aware that coexisting with wildlife, including bears, is a part of daily life. However, this summer has been a significant challenge for law enforcement officials because there have been increasing numbers of bears interacting with people. As a result, officials are struggling with what to do about a growing problem that unfortunately is ending in the deaths of dozens of bears across the state.

While there is no one person or agency responsible for mitigating Routt County's bear problem, officials again are asking residents to abide by city ordinances designed to prevent bears from accessing the one thing that is driving them into the city every day - food.

Feeding frenzy

Bear sightings are most common in April or May and in September, when bears are coming out of and entering hibernation, Haskins said.

Seeing bears in July and August is rare, he said.

"This is about unprecedented for us," he added.

Haskins said the root of the bear problem is the lack of food in their natural habitat.

June's frost killed budding berries and acorns and recent weeks of drought have kept bears' natural food sources from developing, he said.

As a result, bears are being forced to search harder and in other areas to find food. That search has reached a peak because bears are consumed by a feeding frenzy in the months leading up to their hibernations, Haskins said.

"Bears are literally having to find other food sources because they're not finding their natural food sources," he said. "It's a terrible, terrible problem."

In addition to finding alternate food sources, bears also are expanding the boundaries of their habitats.

"In conditions like this, any animal will expand its range to accommodate for the loss or scarcity of its natural habitat," Haskins said.

And where are bears finding food?

Overflowing Dumpsters. Trash cans that have been left out for days. Compost heaps. Exposed trash cans on the side of houses. In refrigerators and pantries bears can access through open windows or doors.

"All the bears are doing right now is looking for food, and they will do whatever it takes to find those food sources," he said. "We can count on that the rest of the summer."

Cracking down

In 2001, the Steamboat Springs City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for residents to put out trash before 6 a.m. on trash collection day or after 8 p.m. the night before if the trash is not contained in wildlife-proof containers. Trash containers are supposed to be returned to a building, house, garage or Dumpster enclosure. The ordinance also makes it illegal to knowingly feed wildlife.

Enforcing the ordinance has become a priority for city officials in light of the bear issues the city has been facing in recent weeks.

Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said Thursday police officers and code enforcement officers are prepared to step up enforcement by issuing fines to residents not in compliance with the city ordinance. A municipal judge reserves the right to assess the fine, but it could range from $100 to $500 depending on how many offenses the resident has been cited for, she said.

"People are really good for awhile, and they forget and go back to their old habits," she said. "We just want to remind people to do the right thing."

Wildlife-proof containers can be found at local hardware stores, through Waste Management or online.

Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said he had directed his officers to begin circulating fliers informing residents about the city's policies in an effort to garner compliance.

"We're working with the Division of Wildlife to help reeducate people about being compliant," he said. "The bottom line is that if you don't come into compliance, you'll eventually get a ticket."

Steamboat Springs police officer Sgt. Dale Coyner said bear complaints roll in nearly every day from neighborhoods all across Steamboat Springs.

"It's an ongoing issue," he said. "Daily, I see knocked over trashcans and cans that have been gone through. It's still a problem."

Coyner said bears also are getting more aggressive in finding food sources.

"People have commented that the bears are becoming more bold and brazen," he said. "As a general rule, bears are becoming more comfortable around people. They're not as easily scared off."

Haskins agreed, saying once bears become accustomed to eating trash and know where to find it, it is nearly impossible to deter a bear from targeting trash.

"I really think some of these bears are keyed in on trash pick-up days," he said. "They're not stupid animals. What you have to understand is they're going to follow their noses from here on out."

However, Haskins said people should not fear bears because they generally are not aggressive toward people.

"Generally, bears aren't dangerous," he said. "You have a greater chance of being killed by bees."

Left without an option

The presence of "nuisance bears" will become more prevalent if people don't start keeping their trash off the streets, Haskins said.

Area DOW officials are meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday to discuss some of the area's recent problems, including escalating bear problems.

"We hope to put out a city map and plot where we're seeing bears and where we're having problems to increase patrol," he said.

There are at least six areas DOW officials are keeping their eyes on, including the east end of Steamboat Springs, Dream Island Plaza, Val d'Isere Circle and Buena Vista Court.

An active trap has been set east of Steamboat Springs to catch a bear that reportedly has been killing chickens and goats, he said.

There also have been talks about resurrecting the Bear-Aware program, which allows community members to take an active role in managing Steamboat's bear population.

While DOW policies allow for officers to relocate bears before putting them down, most bears don't have high success rates after being relocated, he said.

"Officers in Vail have told me that they haven't had a successful relocation in the last four years," Haskins said. "They either died on their own, are killed by other bears, come back into town or are killed by other people."

Finding areas in Colorado that will accept relocated bears also has grown difficult, he said.

"Nobody wants bears," he said. "It's a very, very difficult situation because it's tough to find places that will take them, and we're reluctant to put them in areas where we know sheep are."

Turning anger into action

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Division of Wildlife, said people's reactions to Monday's incident in which a mother bear was destroyed for being a "nuisance bear" spurred several people to lash out at the DOW in anger.

"Nobody gets any pleasure out of what happened in Steamboat Springs or what happened in the past in Vail and Aspen," he said. "People say they're disgusted. Well, we're just as disgusted that we had to put the bears down."

Hampton said he hopes people will "channel" their anger by being compliant with city ordinances designed to protect the bears from becoming acclimatized to eating trash.

"We'll be the bad guy if it prompts change," he said. "The best way to protect bears is to push for enforcement. We're all responsible for protecting the wildlife we love."

Hampton said he is encouraged Steamboat Springs officials are increasing enforcement efforts in hopes of protecting the bears.

In recent years, Vail officials have taken similar stances on enforcing the town's ordinances when the city was facing similar problems.

Division of Wildlife "officials were just overwhelmed last year in Vail," Hampton said. "The bear problem essentially blew up on us, and people got really angry."

In response, Vail police stopped issuing warnings and began citing people for violations.

"So far, this year, we haven't had any reports of bears breaking into homes, and we haven't had to set any traps," he said. "I'm not saying it's a cure-all, but enforcement helps."

-To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 872-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

housepoor 6 years, 8 months ago

A bear killing sheep in the wilderness area should be just fine. The sheep shouldn't be there. If you want to graze you sheep in designated wilderness area thats the risk you take.

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bubba 6 years, 8 months ago

Actually, nxoby, if you read the article, it doesn't mention an overpopulation of bears, as that is not the problem- the problem is that the small population of bears that is out there is having a hard time finding food in their natural habitat, so they are coming to the city to eat the food that careless people leave everywhere. The DOW manages the population of several species through hunting regulations/permit numbers, etc, and the 'stupid pc rules' that you mention are in place to ensure that we have bears in the future. If the population grows to the point that the land cannot sustain the population of bears, I am sure bear hunting will come back- but that is a completely separate issue from what this article is about.

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mama 6 years, 8 months ago

The author comments: "In addition to finding alternate food sources, bears also are expanding the boundaries of their habitats." Um, isnt it humans who are expanding their boundaries and thus getting into the bears already existing boundaries? The problems lie with us, not them.

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nxoby36 6 years, 8 months ago

There you go . I wonder if they will let us use bait or dogs during Real-estate Broker hunting season ? Hmm , would you get more points if you took out Jim Cook ?

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another_local 6 years, 8 months ago

People kill bears. Do you suppose that native americans killed bears that entered their camps during the past 10,000 years? Let's have a little realism on the subject rather than all this "we're in their territory" nonsense.

"This section shall not apply to Division employees or to field agents of the US Department of Agriculture acting in their official capacity, nor to a person who lawfully takes a black bear in defense of life or property"

If you kill a bear in your house you are within your rights allthough you may have a headache from the PC folks.

The purpose of the story was to get people to stop leaving food sources out where the bears can get to them so the DOW will not have to remove problem bears. Hopefully this will take care of the problem before someone gets hurt coming downstairs to the fridge in the middle of the night and finding a bear in the kitchen.

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another_local 6 years, 8 months ago

The article is right about people being angry with the DOW.

Those people should put thier energy into getting neighbors to comply with trash regulations so the DOW does not need to come here and put down nuisance bears.

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Andrew Bisbee 6 years, 8 months ago

compliance and enforcement. sounds simple enough.

i watched a bear for an hour this am eating berries in my yard... they are beautiful and we should do our part to keep them around.

-andrew bisbee

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nxoby36 6 years, 8 months ago

This isn't a city park! We live in the Rocky Mountains there are wild animals here . Wouldn't it be great if all the bear activity sent the fools who bother our police with 911 calls about dog fights,lost cell phones, cats barking and strange people walking around back to suburbia where they belong ? Has anyone bothered to ask the DOW if the overpopulation of bears is related to the stupid PC rules about bear hunting that were put in effect several years ago ?

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nxoby36 6 years, 8 months ago

The success rate has dropped off , some years as much 50% ! check out this report and see if I'm wrong.

http://www.fw.msu.edu/people/riley/Meredith/Gorebearreport.pdf

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nxoby36 6 years, 8 months ago

There is a bear season . The stupid PC laws I was referring to are about using bait or dogs , both are legal in Maine and other states .

" It is the intent of the voters of Colorado to prohibit the taking of black bears when females are rearing their cubs. It is their further intent to promote the concept of fair chase in the taking of black bears by eliminating the use of bait and dogs. During March 1 through September 1, it is unlawful to take a black bear by any means including firearm or bow and arrow. It is unlawful to take a black bear with the use of bait, or with dogs at any time. If a dog accidentally chases a black bear while the owner or person in control of such dog is in legal pursuit of other game, such owner or person in control shall not be charged with illegal taking of a black bear if the dog is called off as soon as the mistake is realized and the bear is not injured or killed. This section shall not apply to Division employees or to field agents of the US Department of Agriculture acting in their official capacity, nor to a person who lawfully takes a black bear in defense of life or property, or to a person who traps, kills, or otherwise disposes of a black bear in accordance with statutory exceptions. "Bait" means to place, expose, deposit, distribute, or scatter salt, minerals, grain, animal parts, or other food so as to lure, attract, or entice black bears on or over any area where hunters are attempting to take black bears. Violation: Class 1 misdemeanor punished as provided in 18-1-106; and license privileges suspended for five years. Persons convicted of a second or subsequent offense shall have their wildlife license privileges suspended permanently (33-4-101.3)."

I wonder if the bear population has increased since this rule was made and if the ratio of issued permits vs kills has changed.

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kingsride 6 years, 8 months ago

Ahhh yet another "crackdown" by the city. Now that the "crackdown" on traffic violators has apparently ended we can move on and "crackdown" by stepping up enforcement on ordinances that really havent been enforced since there enactment, in 2001. More lip service that wont produce real results or solve any problems.

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nxoby36 6 years, 8 months ago

DOW says there are between 8,000 to 12,000 bears living in Colorado and that population has been growing and enlarging their territory . Anyone with half a brain knows that the human population is growing and spreading out also . Both are natural .

another_local, you are correct the main problem is one of education. The majority of the new residents in the valley , make that the mountains or bear country do not understand the reality of living here and the problem with the bears is not as simple as " It's our fault " or the bears fault either . As we are supposed to be the more intelligent species that leaves the solution to us. Maybe if everyone would go to this page of the DOW web site :

http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/LivingWithWildlife/Mammals/BearCountry.htm

They may learn something and quit acting like they are still living in suburbia . Possibly we won't have to kill as many bears just because they are being a bear .

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tf 6 years, 7 months ago

I am concerned about the ramifications of putting down a mother bear when there is a cub involved. My understanding of the incident that resulted in the euthanization of the "nuisance bear" in Steamboat is that her cub was to be relocated. Whatever happened to that cub? Has anyone bothered to follow up on that? It is frustrating that there are so few real solutions to the bear problem. I think killing a bear should be in very extreme circumstances...relocation should be the first action. We know the bears are "frenzied" looking for food at specific times of year...why are we not preparing properly for this, enforcing what needs to be enforced and insuring that wildlife is given the respect it deserves? Instead, I see people flocking to see bears when spotted in downtown areas like it's a side-show event, placing trash out in containers that are not bear-proof and doing so at times that are inappropriate (overnight), leaving garage doors open and pet doors available for bears to enter. Our solution of killing a mother bear and relocating a cub that needs her to survive is ludicrous. Why not enforce the city ordinances...a slap on the wrist is not going to change the behavior of those breaking the laws. But, I bet getting them to pay stiff fines might make them think twice about the trash and other issues. There are real solutions and killing these animals is not the answer. We are not talking about Elk or Deer (over-populated). We need to protect our bear population for the same reason we protect precious land and resources...they are part of what makes Colorado the state in which so many people want to live. We are the lucky ones who get to live here...so lets make sure we leave it the way we found it. Dare I say, even better than when we arrived?

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