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Bear problems worse than ever

JANE STEBBINS
Special to the Daily
ALL |

SUMMIT COUNTY – Tom Kroening wants to keep Summit County’s bears wild – and that’s presenting quite the challenge.The district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife said this summer is the worst he’s seen in regard to complaints he’s received about the ursine animals.They’re breaking into garages, sneaking into barns, damaging Dumpsters, prying open cars – all in an attempt to fatten up before hibernation.”We have bears coming into every town in the county,” Kroening said.Breckenridge has had the most problems, with most of the bear complaints originating from residents on the southwest side of Four O’clock Road to Bekedal. There’s one at Copper Mountain, three or four in both Keystone and Frisco, at least two in Wildernest, at least one in Willowbrook and one on the east side of Silverthorne.

Only two – one in Breckenridge and another in Keystone – have been labeled problem bears.The Breckenridge bear has broken into a vehicle and damaged Dumpster enclosures; the ursine in Keystone has broken into a garage and a car.Both sport two tags in their ears – like little earrings. But those pieces of jewelry indicate to wildlife officials that, if the bear is caught marauding neighborhoods again, it will have to be destroyed under the DOW’s “two strikes and you’re out” rule. DOW officials were forced to destroy a bear that broke into two Wildernest garages this summer.It’s not uncommon for bear sightings to increase as summer rolls into fall, but this year is particularly problematic because bears have learned the easy pickings are wherever humans are. Kroening said his office is spending about 50 percent of its time fielding and responding to bear sightings.

Bears spend up to 20 hours a day eating to get the 20,000 calories a day they need prior to hibernating. They’ll typically put on a third of their original weight prior to that, Kroening said. They typically dine on berries and acorns, but human food, pet food and birdseed can be an easy source of fat for bears and is easier to digest.A few cubs with a taste for non-dairy coffee creamer have been breaking through windows, trailers, buildings and sheds in Fairplay to reach their treat of choice, said DOW public information officer Todd Malmsbury.And the higher-elevation towns – Breckenridge, Fairplay, Aspen and Snowmass among them – seem to be having particular problems this summer, Kroening said.The biggest challenge continues to be educating people to keep trash locked up in containers bears have difficulty breaking into, pulling in bird feeders for the season, keeping Dumpsters locked, storing barbecue units in garages and keeping pet food inside.Once a bear learns where food is easy to find, they tend to return – and each time they get a little more brave.”It’s the same problem we’ve always had,” Kroening said. “They’re getting used to finding human food. That’s the source of the problem. It’s not unusual to see bears around in a community, but if you don’t want the bears, you need to be removing bird feeders, trash and pet food.”

Kroening received numerous calls last week regarding what people thought was a bear cub along Ten Mile Creek near Walter Byron Park in Frisco. That bear, however, is merely a small yearling that could become problematic if he learns early on that human food is easier to find than its natural fodder.”He’s getting along,” Kroening said. “But we’re concerned because people think it’s a baby. It’s doing fine; he just needs to get back in the wild where it can find natural food.”Another point Kroening tries to drive home this time of year is that it would not be unusual for hikers and hunters to encounter bears while in the backcountry, and that they should not be overly alarmed.It will only be a matter of time – when the snow begins to fall – before the bears hole up for the winter. If it snows early, they’ll begin sleeping in the latter part of October through November. In recent years, when snow fell later in the season, bears didn’t take to their dens until the second week of December.”As long as they can get food, they’ll (postpone hibernating),” he said. “If they don’t get enough food, they’ll continue to try.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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