Big bear is a draw for Crested Butte but overall not a problem this summer

Spending 17 hours in a tree has to be no fun

by Mark Reaman

A large 450-pound bear was the main attraction in Crested Butte last Thursday, July 23, as he spent 17 hours in a tree, drawing constant crowds at the corner of Second and Elk. The bear went up the tree about five in the morning and didn’t come down until about 9:45 p.m. after the sun and the crowds had disappeared.

“We used that incident as an educational opportunity for people and a learning experience for the bear,” explained Chris Parmeter, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) in the Gunnison Basin. “It probably worked for everyone.”

Parmeter said the CPW had interaction with nearly 1,000 people and passed out hundreds of “bear brochures” throughout the day.

photo by Lydia Stern
photo by Lydia Stern

As for the bear, “The fact that a bear that big was spooked and stayed up there that long tells me he was a wild bear and not one used to the town. That is very unusual,” Parmeter explained. “He was definitely thirsty and hungry that day and we hope he was uncomfortable enough to learn not to come into town and do that again. Having a miserable experience could be a good learning lesson for the bear.”

Crested Butte chief marshal Tom Martin said that particular bear might actually be a somewhat regular visitor to town but overall, this has been a relatively quiet bear season.

“A bear that big probably dominates other bears so they tend to stay away,” Martin said. “That bear might be the only guy coming into town. We think he got into a garage at First and Maroon Sunday night by breaking a few windows. The garage door was open when he left so it looks like he maybe hit the button to open the door. But for the most part, we haven’t had many problems compared to, say, four or five years ago when bears were a regular nuisance.”

Martin said that when the town passed an ordinance requiring “bear-resistant” garbage cans, the bear problem dissipated. The easy food supply dried up and the bruins went back into the wild. Martin thinks some of those trash cans are getting older and might be “compromised.”

“He’s found a few food sources in town,” said Martin. “Some of the garbage cans are easier to get into now. Some of the dumpsters are being left open. We have written some tickets for unsecured trash and dumpsters. The ordinance is clear that a property owner is responsible to make sure garbage is not accessible to bears.”

Parmeter said CPW research shows bears prefer to stay in the wild and find food in the backcountry, but every once in a while an individual bear will feel it is easier to get food in a town. “The food in the backcountry this year is pretty plentiful, given the rain and conditions this summer,” he said. “It is excellent.”

Parmeter and Martin said the goal is to do everything possible to avoid having to trap and put down a bear. “We live in bear country and having a bear in a tree in Crested Butte is not that unusual,” said Parmeter. “Last year we only trapped one bear and we haven’t brought the trap out this summer at all. That guy in the tree wasn’t a problem bear or a nuisance bear. He was just a plain ‘ol bear.”

Parmeter said there have been a few reports of bears up Taylor Canyon getting into bird feeders and trash. The restaurant in Crested Butte South has also apparently attracted a few bruins. “It hasn’t been a bad summer at all,” said Parmeter.

That’s the feeling up in Mt. Crested Butte as well. Marjorie Trautman of the Mt. Crested Butte police department said there have been no major or consistent bear issues in the town this summer. “Officers contacted one bear earlier this season that was scared off from his picnic,” she said. “And a homeowner was ticketed a few weeks ago for putting out trash too early for pick-up.”

“Basically if a bear gets trapped it is a death sentence,” added Martin. “We don’t want to do that except as a last resort. That’s why we want to remind everyone to keep their garbage locked up and in the garage. Don’t give bears any opportunity. Bears are smart. Four or five years ago we had some that figured out that food was in cars and they figured out how to open the car doors. We feel that the incident last week was a good reminder for everyone, a good educational opportunity for a lot of people and a lesson for the bear.”

Trautman concurred. “The message is especially important as we head into the fall season when bears become far more opportunistic in order to pack on the necessary calories for their long winter’s nap,” she said. “Local residents and visitors alike need to understand how to keep our wildlife dependent on the wild and not on easy handouts from trashcans and bird feeders.”

The big bear finally climbed down from the tree before 10 o’clock at night after spending an entire day on the tree branch, being photographed by hundreds of people. “He hit the ground and bolted up the alley behind the Forest Queen,” said Parmeter. “He headed west out of town pretty fast. Hopefully he learned to not do that again, hopefully people learned about living and visiting bear country and the need to not make food available to bears in town.”

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