Steamboat Springs Bears are beginning to come out of hibernation in the Steamboat Springs area and at least three already have been reported to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
"When these bears are first coming out of their denning season, they'll go for a couple weeks without eating at all," area wildlife manager Jim Haskins said Tuesday. "Then they'll start getting active, and when we've got this kind of snow cover, they'll start looking for stuff to eat."
Bear activity in populated areas is most frequent in the spring and fall, on either side of hibernation, Haskins said. Once the snow cover melts and bears have access to food in their natural habitat, most of the animals will stay out of town, he said.
"Generally, the males come out of the den first, and the females come out a little later," Haskins continued. "I don't think we've had any reports of adults with cubs, but we may start seeing that in a week or two."
Bears became especially problematic in the Steamboat area last summer, when an unexpected June frost killed or damaged many of their natural food sources, Haskins said. Under a Steamboat Springs city ordinance, residents are required to help keep bears and other wildlife out of town by securing their trash and limiting animal attractions.
"People who have curbside pickup are required to have a wildlife-resistant trash container, if they want to put their cans out prior to 6 a.m. on the day of pickup or leave them out past 8 p.m. on trash collection day," Deputy City Manager Wendy Dubord said.
The city's wildlife resistance ordinance, written in 2001 and revised in 2005, was designed to protect humans and wildlife including bears, foxes, raccoons and neighborhood dogs, she said.
"A lot of people just leave their cans out there for several days," Dubord said. "That's pretty much baiting wildlife."
Wildlife-resistant trash cans can be rented from Waste Management or purchased at local hardware stores.
Commercially available cans tend to be "pricey," Ace at the Curve floor manager Rick Peters said. Bear-proof trash cans at Ace start at $220 for a 64-gallon receptacle.
"We've even had people build their own. As long as it's a secure container that has some kind of locking latch mechanism, that's fine," Dubord said.
Existing trash containers can be modified relatively easily - and considerably more cheaply -with I-bolts and cables to keep wildlife out, Peters said.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department and code enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Officers have "Bear Aware" pamphlets to give out as Steamboat eases its way into bear season, but offenders also can be cited.
Steamboat Springs police Sgt. Rich Brown said most of the tickets the department issues for the wildlife resistance ordinance are not because of gross negligence.
"More often than not, it's just that the receptacles aren't in compliance with the code. Either that or they're out on the curb too soon," Brown said.
In addition to keeping their trash out of animals' paws, residents also should take care to wash their recyclables before putting them out for collection, Dubord said.
"If you have a bunch of dirty stinky mayonnaise jars, you should wash them out because the smell will attract bears," she said.
In addition to waste, bears and other animals are attracted to bird feeders, any kind of pet food and residue on barbecues and grills, Haskins said.
The city's ordinance also makes it illegal to purposely feed or bait wildlife - a policy that includes keeping food sources such as birdfeeders out when animals have been getting into them, Dubord said.
When the city was developing its wildlife resistance ordinance, there was originally talk of limiting restrictions to the mountain area.
"We've speculated that there's so much more human activity, and because of that so many more temptations for bears, over on the mountain," Haskins said. "We don't seem to get many reports from the Emerald Mountain side."
However, bear problems have historically been widespread throughout the area. The city's ordinance applies to every trash can within city limits.
"Every single area of town has had bear sightings and bear issues," Dubord said. "We have bears on Oak Street, bears on Yampa."
"We actually had a few last year where bears broke into homes," Dubord said.
Last Thursday, a bear on the 1700 block of Natches Way broke into a garage where residents were storing their trash.
"We thought there was no way a bear could fit through the doggie door, but one of our officers peeked in and there was the bear, staring him in the face," Brown said.
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