Routt County Communications burdened by bear calls | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County Communications burdened by bear calls

Director asks visitors, residents to call 911 only if they are in danger

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is posting informational signs

— Shortly after they wake up from a winter slumber and edge closer to Dumpsters across town, the black bears and their escapades often go unreported. But come Memorial Day weekend, tourists and residents in Routt County constantly are calling out the bears they spy, sometimes unnecessarily.

"The tourists see a bear and some of them feel like they need to call 911," Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Jim Haskins said. "They cannot get a hold of dispatch because the only number they know is 911."

Haskins said he thinks 99 percent of the bear calls that come in through the communications department are not emergencies. Calls are forwarded from police to DOW officers, who then decide whether an investigation or a follow-up is necessary.

"Sometimes, the level of calls becomes a burden on our communications people, and it's frustrating for them," Haskins said.

Routt County Communications Director Tim McMenamin said that since May 1, police have received 75 bear calls through 911 and non-emergency numbers. From January through April, they received eight. He said that unless an individual feels threatened by a bear, or is caught between a mother and her cubs, residents and visitors should not call to report the animals.

"If people are concerned, they can call us, and if they are truly in danger, they can call 911," McMenamin said. "But what people should know is that bears are natural here, they belong here, and if you stay away from them, there shouldn't be any problems."

He said if a bear isn't bothering anyone, nobody else needs to know it's there.

This week, the DOW is trying to track down a young "nuisance" bear who attracted a lot of phone chatter and 911 calls after he frequented the Dumpsters near Steamboat's Starbucks and Safeway stores.

Haskins said the DOW unsuccessfully attempted to tranquilize and trap the bear during the weekend so that it could be transported out of the area.

"We don't want to catch a bear unless it's a problem because it takes a lot of time to catch one, and there aren't a lot of places you can move it," he said. "When we do, we try to target specific bears that are dangerous or who have become nuisances because they dig through trash all the time."

Haskins and McMenamin said peoplewho are concerned by a bear they've spotted can call dispatch at 970-879-1090, or the DOW at 970-870-2197. They said 911 should be used only in situations where an individual feels threatened by a bear or thinks an attack is imminent.

The DOW also is working to post more informational boards tnear neighborhoods and areas where bear and other wildlife sightings have happened. The boards advise residents how they can avoid having conflicts with animals.

McMenamin said people often respond to a bear sighting in three ways: "A third are scared out of their wits, a third get too friendly and try to feed them and the other third just enjoy the sighting and take pictures."

— To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email ScottFranz@SteamboatToday.com