Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Be aware of the bears

It’s getting to be that time of year for “furry burglars”

By Mark Reaman

You might think, given the thick foliage covering the valley, bears would be fat and happy in the backcountry. But there are always a few that prefer the ease of easy human food over a bunch of berries on the vine deep in the woods. We are approaching bear season and the bruins are starting to make their presence known.

While on hikes or rides in the nearby backcountry, several people have spotted bears. The bears are starting to amble through rural subdivisions and reports of bears opening car doors and knocking over trashcans have begun.

One bear in a nearby subdivision apparently opened the doors to two vehicles, went in both and sniffed around before politely leaving. The bruin didn’t even take the package of Honeystix left on a seat. Instead, he made his exit, leaving only big paw prints.

In the town of Crested Butte, the marshals have had success in discouraging bears from wandering into town but that doesn’t mean there aren’t encounters.

“We are grateful that this year seems like a late start for the bears in town but there is at least one in town causing a bit of damage,” said Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily. “It sounds like he/she is about 350 to 400 pounds and light-colored. In addition to getting into unsecured garbage containers, which is always a problem, it sounds like this one is mastering the art of popping open bear-resistant cans by jumping on them. Not only does this make a mess, it also damages the can. People are reminded to leave all garbage cans in a secured spot until 6 a.m. on the day of scheduled pickup. This will prevent potential damage to cans and reduce access to garbage by bears, which always endangers their survival.”

Mt. Crested Butte police department spokesman Marjorie Trautman said there hasn’t been any significant bear activity noted in that town so far this summer. “Our first real sighting was Thursday, July 25. A large bear was lumbering across Gothic Road near Cinnamon Mountain Road with a garbage bag swinging from his mouth,” she reported. She said people also were taking pictures of a bear seen in the dumpster at the water treatment plant on Gothic Road on July 25.

She did note that her department helped respond to a “doozy” of a bear call in Crested Butte South very early Wednesday morning. “A bear ripped a gas meter off of a house on Packer Way. Sounds like he trashed the siding down to the studs as well. Best guess of the bear’s reason is due to a small vent above the gas meter that leads into the kitchen pantry where the homeowner keeps the trashcan. They can smell everything! It sounds like a young child’s window near the meter was open and the gas smell coming through it made him sick in his sleep and that’s how the owner probably became aware of the leaking gas.”

Crested Butte South is located in bear country and Crested Butte South Property Owner Association manager Dom Eymere said it’s been a busy bear season already. He thinks several bears are wandering that area looking for easy food.

“We have had numerous sightings and five official incidents,” he said. “Hummingbird feeders seem to be the cause for the lion’s share of the bear activity.”

Eymere shared an example of an incident on Shavano Street that’s basically the opposite of the bear that politely left Honeystix in a car. “A renter at Shavano Street reported a bear that tore into his garage through the metal door and got into a refrigerator and some camping equipment. And some trashcans that were illegally placed outside prior to the pick-up days, which is a no-no, were broken into.”

Eymere said the rules regulating trashcans “are generally followed and we have only a few incidents a year, but these have been in place for some time. It does not help to have two garbage pick-up days with two different waste management companies.”

“There should be lots of vegetation available in the Basin and throughout the elevation ranges. Some of the high country may not have as much due to the lingering snow pack.  It’s been a bit of a weird year with the cooler temps and above average snow pack,” said J Wenum, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Gunnison. “People can prevent conflicts with bears and other wildlife, and we really need everyone to follow the proper precautions to help keep your property, your neighborhood and our bear population safe. In the summer, bears typically forage for insects, leaves and flowers of broad-leafed plants but all it takes is one careless person to encourage a bear to get into a neighbor’s home, car or trash can.”

Over the years, officials have tried to deter bears from human populations by shooting them with rubber bullets or making noise to try to scare them. Bears have been trapped and relocated. But bears that haven’t learned the lesson and persisted in using the ease of populated areas to find food have been killed.

“We are starting to hear about the typical bear in an alley with garbage pulled from a dumpster or, dumping over garbage cans to see which ones yield food,” said Reily. “When it was safe to do so, officers have shot the bear with rubber buckshot in an attempt to make dumpster-diving an unpleasant experience but, if people food is available when they go into hibernation in the fall they will continue to forage in town, regardless of whether we harass them or not.

“It is incumbent upon humans to make sure these unnatural food sources are not available to bears so they don’t get placed in the position of choosing the easy garbage option, which will end up getting them killed,” Reily emphasized. “As for garbage, most people are following the rules but it only takes a few to violate the regulations, which gives the bears an opportunity to get into garbage, learn of this unnatural food source and keep coming back to humans for food, which never ends well for the bears.”

“Adjusting your habits to living with wildlife takes a little effort at first, but over time it becomes a better way to live,” added Wenum. “We’ll suggest the standard precautions for people living and recreating in bear country.  Think of bears as furry burglars. If you don’t want the car, garage, house or other items broken into keep them clean and secure. Also, if a bear is visiting the neighborhood, make it feel unwelcome. The more pressure and unpleasant experiences the animal has associated with the two-legged beasts the less likely it is to stick around.”

If you have a bear encounter, let the Colorado Parks and Wildlife know by reporting the bear directly to the department at 641-7060.

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