A bear crosses Spruce Street as pedestrians and motorists go about their daily routine in September.

Photo by John F. Russell

A bear crosses Spruce Street as pedestrians and motorists go about their daily routine in September.

2012 was average year for nuisance bear incidents in Steamboat

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— Despite some high-profile bear incidents in the past 12 months, it was a typical year in Routt County in terms of the number of issues involving nuisance bears and bears that had to be put down, a local wildlife official said Wednesday.

The story is different in other parts of Colorado.

Not including bears that were killed by licensed hunters, there were about 133 black bear deaths in 2012 throughout Colorado. That is similar to the number of bears that died in 2011.

In the Area 10 region that encompasses most of Routt and Jackson counties, seven bears died in 2012, according to Randy Hampton, public information officer with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Bear deaths were more prevalent in other parts of Colorado. There were 39 bears killed or euthanized in Area 8 alone. That region includes eastern Garfield County and all of Eagle and Pitkin counties. Wildlife officials said drought and a frost-damaged berry crop might have had more of an impact in that region.

Hampton said bear deaths have been on the rise since the 1990s, when Colorado typically saw about 30 bear deaths each year.

“Obviously, we see a trend, and we are very concerned about it,” Hampton said.

He said the increase cannot necessarily be tied to an increase in the black bear population, which is estimated to be between 16,000 and 18,000.

“One factor that has changed dramatically is the human population,” Hampton said.

In Steamboat Springs, wildlife officers trapped three bears this summer that were being a nuisance.

One of those bears illegally was shot and killed after being relocated near the Wyoming border.

Another bear that was trapped was euthanized because it bit a wildlife officer’s finger.

Toward the end of the summer, the city became more of a magnet for outlying bears, and there began to be reports of bears bluff charging humans. When bears bluff charge, they take steps toward a human but stop short of charging them. A bear on Emerald Mountain reportedly was bluff charging mountain bikers.

While local area wildlife manager Jim Haskins said this was an average year for nuisance bears, he anticipates increased incidents in 2013.

“We’re going to have trouble next year,” Haskins said.

That's because the sows that were with cubs this year will kick their yearlings out of the den next year. Those are the bears that have been raised with bad habits and are likely to cause the most trouble, Haskins said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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