Our View: Call of the Wild | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: Call of the Wild

— Bear sightings have been on the rise in Steamboat Springs for the past two decades, coinciding with the city's growth and our encroachment on traditional bear habitat. Only on rare occasions do the increased bear sightings result in an uncomfortable encounter.

A curious consequence of the growing black bear presence is a jump in the number of 911 calls reporting bear sightings. It's gotten to the point where emergency dispatchers and law enforcement agencies are asking people not to use 911 to report a bear unless the animal is posing an immediate threat to people.

According to Routt County Communications Director Tim McMenamin, police have received 75 calls about bears through 911 and non-emergency numbers since May 1. His message: Bears belong here and therefore their presence shouldn't alarm or frighten us. Don't hesitate to report nuisance bears by calling dispatch at 970-879-1090, but reserve use of 911 for actual emergencies.

That's commonsense advice for residents and visitors, particularly as bear activity continues to increase in the summer months. But what's perhaps more important is a reminder about all of our personal responsibility to protect our bear population by taking simple steps to reduce encounters.

Black bears tend to be passive and non-aggressive. Their mission during the summer and fall months is to fatten up for the long Routt County winter. In addition to the wide array of natural food options that thrive in our area — wild berries and grasses chief among them — our bear population has found a reliable source of food in the unsecured trash cans and Dumpsters that line our neighborhoods and commercial districts. Even our cars have become fair game for hungry bears who smell a potential meal.

Our failure to secure those food sources is what creates nuisance bears. And a nuisance bear, sadly, is one quickly on its way to death. The city of Steamboat Springs has an ordinance on the books that requires all residences and businesses that store trash outside to do so in an approved wildlife-proof container. That includes Dumpsters that are in an enclosure.

Residents and businesses that pay for curbside trash pickup cannot put out their trash cans until 6 a.m. on the morning of pickup and must bring them back inside by 8 p.m. the same day, unless they have wildlife-proof containers. The city ought to make sure it's enforcing the ordinance, especially in areas where bears are more common.

Violators of the ordinance are subject to fines. Worse, violators jeopardize the survival of a magnificent creature that helps make living here special.