Aggressive bears reported in Steamboat Springs

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Casey Barnett/courtesy

A black bear feeds Sept. 26 at Fish Creek Mobile Home Park. Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, said that two sows with cubs hang out in the area daily and that traps have been set.

— The bears may just be bluffing, but it still can be scary when one takes a few quick steps in your direction.

It appears one of those bears in particular is protecting something in a popular recreation area on Emerald Mountain.

On Tuesday night, Steamboat Springs resident Sameta Rush was running down Blackmer Drive on Emerald Mountain when she heard noise coming from the scrub oak near where the Lupine and Larry’s trails intersect with the gravel road.

She continued down the road, looked back and saw near the ditch a black bear that was huffing, puffing and hissing.

“Get away bear. Get away bear,” Rush said, hoping it would go away.

The bear didn't leave and instead came onto the road and closer to Rush. She said she is familiar with bears after living in Steamboat and spending 10 years guiding in Alaska. This bear’s behavior, though, left her in disbelief.

“I understand the aggressive behavior of a bear, and this one is definitely charging me,” Rush said.

She tried again to scare the bear away and blew on a whistle she had in her pocket.

“I want you to be afraid of humans. Go away. Go away,” Rush said.

The bear eventually left, but this might not be its first aggressive encounter with humans. Rush’s friend Jaimie Zelkin reported getting charged by a bear while mountain biking Sept. 28 on the Lupine Trail. Two other mountain bikers also have reported having recent run-ins with a bear in the area.

“I’m really frustrated, and it’s not the bear’s fault,” Rush said.

She blames the unsecured trash that has attracted the bears and made them comfortable and even aggressive toward humans.

Jim Haskins, area wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, said that Rush’s encounter with a bear is not surprising and that there recently have been reports of bears “bluff charging.” That is when a bear charges toward a person but stops short of making contact with the person. He said a wildlife officer recently was bluff charged by a black bear.

“It feels like an aggressive action, but it’s a reaction by the bear being surprised,” Haskins said. “It’s totally in the norm when a bear is surprised.”

Haskins encouraged people to report aggressive bear behavior and said there are a few reasons why it might be occurring. He thinks that the bears have gotten more used to people during the summer and that the bears might be under more stress. As the weather gets cooler, bears are more active during the day because they do not need to shelter themselves from the heat.

“The opportunity for people to run into them is much bigger,” Haskins said.

While Rush was carrying a whistle, Haskins said people might want to consider purchasing bear spray. It can be used for protection, but it also could teach the bears to stay away from humans.

“If those bears got hit with bear spray a few times, I think it would really help the situation,” Haskins said.

Bears are being a particular nuisance in the Blue Sage Drive, Tamarack Drive and Fish Creek Mobile Home Park areas. Two traps are set in the mobile home park, and wildlife officers are focusing their efforts on two sows with cubs.

“These bears hang out in the same tree every day,” Haskins said.

He said they want to avoid tranquilizing the bears because they could fall on a trailer below.

Haskins said other recent bear-human encounters have included a bear that got so close to a resident that a hockey stick was used to hit the bear and scare it away. In another incident, two women baking cookies in different parts of Steamboat had bears that were trying to push in screen doors on their decks, Haskins said.

“We may have to get a little more aggressive,” Haskins said.

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

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