In wake of attack in Grand Junction, prevention, awareness keys to avoiding contact with bears | SteamboatToday.com

In wake of attack in Grand Junction, prevention, awareness keys to avoiding contact with bears

A black bear, most likely a yearling, runs through the Pamela Lane neighborhood in Steamboat Springs. Bears are common in this area, and across Steamboat. Officials say taking precautions can help avoid dangerous situations and unwanted contact.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Keeping your trash in a bear-proof container and locking your cars doors are two pieces of advice Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen is offering to Steamboat Springs residents who want to reduce the chance of an unwanted visit from a bear.

"We have ordinances that cover that stuff on purpose about when you can put your trash out, when you can't,” Christensen said. “That's the best thing we can do is pay attention to those ordinances and secure our trash in a way that the bears can't get to it."

This is even more important after news from Grand Junction where a 5-year-old girl was attacked by a black bear outside her home in east Orchard Mesa early Sunday morning.

According to news reports, the girl’s mother told state wildlife officers that her daughter went outside around 2:30 a.m. to investigate noises she thought might be coming from her dog. The mother said she then heard screaming and went out to find her daughter being dragged away by a large black bear. 

The mom said the bear dropped the girl after she began screaming at the animal. That bear was killed by wildlife officers Monday afternoon.

Although there have not been recent bear attacks in Steamboat Springs, it's not uncommon for bear sightings to be reported around town. There have already been seven bear calls in the Steamboat area this spring — four at commercial properties and three at private residences.

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager Kris Middledorf said residents need to be aware that black bears are common in Northwest Colorado, and a heightened sense of awareness is needed.

"If you live west of I-25, other than some of the Denver Metro Area, you need to be cognizant that you are around bears,” Middledorf said. “Anywhere in Steamboat Springs you could probably open your door in the morning and see a black bear. It's rare, but it’s possible. You should have situational awareness about everything around you."

Middledorf doesn't think the people need to be alarmed, just aware. He said nobody wants to have an encounter with a moose or a bear. He said it can happen when someone is hiking, biking or walking down the Yampa River Core Trail.

If people come in contact with a bear, Middledorf advised they make themselves look as big as possible and back away slowly. If attacked, people should fight back. 

The good news is that most black bears have little interest in people, and in most cases, they will head the other way. Middledorf said homeowner can scare bears away by banging pots and pans, using an air horn or making other loud noises. He said people should use common sense and should never confront the animal.

He also stressed the importance of securing trash in bear-proof containers and, if possible, keeping it in a shed or garage until trash day. He also advises people to close and lock ground-level doors and windows and windows on decks, which a bear might access by climbing up stairs.

Middledorf added that bird feeders are also a huge draw for bears, and homeowners might consider putting them out only at certain times of the year or not having them at all.

In almost every case, bears are looking for food, and if people take away those sources, the chances of coming into contact with a bear are reduced.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.