Sow euthanized, cub relocated for rehabilitation
By Katherine Nettles
In an incident on Tuesday, August 7, two American black bears—a sow and her cub—broke into a residence along Anthracite Road in Mt. Crested Butte, surprising the residents who were upstairs.
Mt. Crested Butte Police responded to the report, determining that this was the fifth overall incident of this particular pair of bears getting into homes in that area in the span of a week. The prior four events had included the sow and cub breaking into partially opened casement windows to take loaves of bread, tearing off cabinet panels to get to pet food, and entering a home where the resident reported there was nothing but a small bowl of licorice on the counter, according to Marjorie Trautman of the Mt. Crested Butte Police Department.
The sow was successfully caught using a bear trap, and the cub was treed and tranquilized for transport. Officials with the police department and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) then reviewed the circumstances and made the decision to euthanize the mother and relocate the cub for rehabilitation into the wild.
“The mom had started down that path, and by the time we were notified it had become habitual for her,” said J Wenum with the CPW office in Gunnison. “She had either attempted to or succeeded in getting into several homes at that point and was starting to teach her cub as well. The cub was using dog doors, while the sow was using open windows and lever-handled doors.”
“That was a sad day for everybody involved,” said Trautman. “It is tragic to lose such a beautiful animal, but somewhere along the way that bear learned to live off humans. We need to help them not learn that habit in the first place.”
To rehabilitate an older bear is pretty difficult, explained Wenum, but rehabilitation has been very successful for young bears. The cub was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility in the San Luis Valley where it can interact with other bears its age and likely be placed in an artificial den for winter once it is ready for hibernation.
“In the spring it will hopefully emerge and go about being a wild bear again,” said Wenum. In this situation a cub is marked with an ear tag at a minimum, and if it displays behavior indicating a higher need for surveillance other electronic devices can be used. “That way if we do have future encounters with it we will have information about its history,” he said.
“Our hope is that we can get that one out of that particular behavior mode, and it can go on to live a healthy, productive life,” said Wenum.
Incidents like this one generally crop up each year at the end of July and into August, according to CPW. Bears enter into a time of hyperphagia, when they consume extra calories to gain weight for winter hibernation. During this time, bears will increase their intake from between 4,000 and 5,000 calories per day to between 18,000 and 20,000, said Wenum. “They are on the move quite a bit more, spending 18 to 20 hours in searching and foraging activities per day versus about half that amount the rest of the year.”
Trautman noted that, aside from the sow and her cub, there have been no other incidents of bears disturbing homes or businesses in Mt. Crested Butte this year.
Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for the southwestern region of CPW, said there have been fairly few bear incidents in southwestern Colorado this year, likely because there were not late freezes, and therefore the natural sources of food were preserved.
Common food choices for black bears include berries, Gambel oak acorns, insects, dead animal carrion, and vegetation, said Wenum. Bears are not often predatory, he said, and typically by mid to late October or early November their food pursuits wind down as their digestive systems slow for hibernation. In the meantime, CPW has several recommendations for preventing bear issues and other wildlife nuisances.
These include proper trash management, keeping trash receptacles secured inside or in bear-proof containers, avoiding windows left open all night—particularly at ground level—keeping regular bird feeders and hummingbird feeders suspended far from tree trunks and at least ten feet above the ground (or avoiding them altogether), cleaning off barbeque grills after each use, maintaining compost bins carefully, and using electric fences to protect beekeeping areas.
Lewandowski encourages people to contact local law enforcement even for minor bear issues to prevent bears from becoming familiar with humans and possibly growing more aggressive.
“Sometimes people are hesitant to call us if a bear is running around, just knocking over trash cans or something minor—we still like to know about it, because if we know early on we can come to an area and identify what’s going on. We can identify possible food sources, inform people who may not realize they are causing a problem, and we can do something about it,” said Lewandowski. “Putting an animal down is certainly one of our last resorts.”
Wenum said that “hazing” curious bears, sometimes with pellet guns, needs to be done early to teach them to stay away. “It becomes much more difficult to dissuade them once they have found a good food reward on the inside,” he said.
Trautman echoed that once bear behavior has become habitual, it is very unlikely to change. “No one ever means to entice a bear. The fact is that we live among them, and they are going to continue to live among us. So we need to take the initiative to protect them from getting too close.”