Bears now on the prowl so encounters more likely

A big one, a small one and a medium one roaming the towns

What started off as a slow summer in terms of local bear encounters is picking up speed as area bruins realize winter might not be far off, and they have to pack on the pounds for a long hibernation.



The bears are back and they are foraging through the alleys and Dumpsters of town and even starting to try to break into homes and cars. As is typical in August, more and more bears have been seen in Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and many of the area subdivisions.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Area Wildlife Manager J Wenum said the bottom line is that Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South are all located in prime bear country and people shouldn’t be really surprised that there are bears around.
“There have been and will be bears in Crested Butte,” Wenum said. “Now, I don’t think there is an off-the-chart bear problem this year but there are probably three distinct bears around the town of Crested Butte on a regular basis. I have concerns with one of them. The other two are being very bear-like and just looking for easy food sources.
“But the other one is being more assertive and is trying to get into vehicles or houses. That bear seems opportunistic and isn’t afraid to enter homes through unlocked doors or through doors with lever handles instead of knobs. It has gotten in a few houses. We are trying to trap him up there but we haven’t had any success yet,” Wenum admitted.
Crested Butte Assistant Chief Marshal Ted Conner agreed there are three main bears prowling town and one is more of a “problem” bear that is more prone to try to get into homes or cars.
“It is critical for people to secure their homes and trash,” Conner said. “Bird feeders and grills also attract bears. In fact, most bird feeders have to meet stringent requirements to be allowed in town because the bears just love those things. Some people have found spraying ammonia around an area works as a deterrent. We are actively after the middle-sized bear that we feel is the primary aggressive bear. There is a larger and a smaller animal in town regularly but the middle one seems to be the one guy that is more of a problem.”
The Mt. Crested Butte law enforcement officers handle the upper end of the valley as part of the county Sheriff’s Department. Officer Anthony Burton is aware of at least three bear incidents occurring in Crested Butte South and a few taking place in outlying subdivisions like Glacier Lily. “We didn’t see much of the bears early in the summer but they seem to be coming out across the valley now,” Burton said. “I guess as we move into fall the bears start trying to fatten up.”
Mt. Crested Butte Police Chief Hank Smith shot and killed a bear a few weeks ago in Mt. Crested Butte. The bear exhibited some aggressive behavior and Smith took action. The bear ended up weighing more than 400 pounds.
Smith said his department had run into this particular bear before. “This was a bear we dealt with last year and it was probably 500 pounds at the time. This year, it was estimated to weigh about 420 pounds,” he said. “It was probably a ten-year-old bear and likely wouldn’t have lived another year. His teeth were worn down and he was in pain.”
Smith said in 2010, he and an officer chased the bear several times and had it cornered. “It charged us at the time but we didn’t want to kill it. This year we got a call, found it and hit it with a beanbag. It ran under a porch and we hit it with another beanbag and it showed some signs of aggression,” Smith explained. “He erupted and went bananas. He was growling and tearing stuff up. His head and his paws were huge. At that point, it was apparent he was super-aggressive so we made the decision to kill him. The DOW took him off. He was a worn-out bear and the teeth were worn down and he probably wouldn’t have lasted a year. It was sad. We don’t enjoy doing it. No one wants to have a bear killed.”
Smith emphasized the need to keep food from the bears. “Towns are a food source. That’s the only reason they end up staying in town and ultimately getting killed this way,” he said.
“If you keep food out of their way, they won’t stay in town. We have given out a lot of tickets because of that. So please keep your trash and Dumpsters locked up,” Smith emphasized.
Wenum said the bear situation varies from year to year depending on circumstances. “This year, let’s face it, it was a cool, wet spring. In some regards, there was a fair amount of natural vegetation but with the snow, it was hard to get to,” Wenum explained. “The high country was hard to get up to until late June. And that applied to bears as well as people. Since then, there appears to be a very good berry crop. Now hopefully, they’ll have a hard time with trash in town and figure out there are easier ways to get calories and head to the backcountry and natural vegetation.
“The bottom line is that bears realize in August they only have a few weeks or months to put on the fat reserves for winter hibernation,” Wenum continued. “They’ll eat 18 to 20 hours a day for the next six or eight weeks. People in Crested Butte have done a really good job with the trash component. That is a reason why there aren’t as many bears in town now. They aren’t getting the reward they are used to. But we live in bear country.”
And bears in bear country eat into the autumn before finding a den to hole up in for the winter.
“Hopefully the bears will head out of town for the winter in September,” Conner said. “But in 2009, we were dealing with them in October. In 2010, we only went into the middle part of September. But we expect this could go on for a while. So we are asking residents to really be responsible and be aware. People should take basic precautions. They need to secure the trash and the bird feeders and beyond that, they should secure their doors, lower their windows and keep the dog food out of the mudroom.”
As always, law enforcement personnel recommend bringing in grills and birdfeeders at night. Trash should be put in bear-resistant trash containers and Dumpsters should be locked.
Conner said if anyone has any safety concerns or questions, they should feel free to contact the Marshal’s Office.

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