Bear scares in Summit County: An uptick in encounters makes residents worry about deadly consequences of improper food storage
Witnesses say rental trash may be a culprit in recent uptick in bear traffic
Over the past week, there have been multiple bear encounters in Summit County.
In both the Wildernest Village in Silverthorne and in Dillon Valley, two residents have reported bears within feet of their homes in the past week.
Kyle Walker grew up in Summit County and moved back in 2020. Walker said he’s seen many bears throughout his years here but never one this close.
Walker and his partner, AJ Gaddis, were cooking dinner at home on Friday, July 29. Their home backs up to Tenderfoot Mountain, right outside of Keystone, and has windows on the first floor that open to the outside with no screens. Thinking nothing of it, they left the windows open while they cooked.
At around 8 p.m., Gaddis left through the front door to grab something out of their car. He thought he saw a large brown dog, a usual occurrence in their neighborhood, so Gaddis didn’t look too closely at the furry creature on their front deck.
Then, he heard a huff, an aggressive sound only a bear would make. Gaddis said when he turned around, a black bear with brown fur and a black face was only feet away from him.
“It was definitely startling,” Gaddis said. “I wasn’t expecting it, so I didn’t exactly know how to react. I basically just had a freak out and bolted back in the front door.”
Walker heard Gaddis scream “bear” and immediately run inside, so he rushed downstairs and tried to make loud noises to scare it away.
It worked, but the bear ran to their backyard, where it continued to sniff around for a few minutes, Walker said. Once the bear was far enough away, Walker grabbed two buckets and banged them together until the bear finally leaped the fence and returned to the woods.
While they didn’t capture video evidence of the event, Dillon Valley resident Isaac Alfaro caught video footage of a bear on that same evening. Walker said he thinks it was the same one on a Facebook post the next day.
Only a few days later, Wildernest resident Sam Killgore and her husband caught footage of two different bears on three occasions that walked feet away from their home.
Killgore has lived in her Wildernest home for three years. Besides a paw print near their driveway and some scat in the backyard, she has never seen a bear in Summit County.
One night, Killgore’s husband had an idea to point their new camera-equipped doorbell to where they had spotted bear scat in the backyard. Sure enough, the next morning, video footage of a bear showed up on the camera reel.
Killgore is surprised there have been so many in such a short amount of time.
“They keep coming back and wandering through our yard, which makes me wonder where they’re going,” she said.
According to Killgore, there are no signs of rummaging. They keep garbage in the garage and have no bird feeders for that exact reason.
However, Killgore said there are many AirBnBs in Wildernest whose front yards are often strewn with garbage, evidence that a bear has found a snack. She said renters will put out garbage before garbage day, creating an easy target for a hungry bear.
She added that on Friday and Wednesday mornings — garbage days for Wildernest — it’s common to see garbage cans tipped over with trash scattered around.
To cut down on wildlife interference, Silverthorne passed an ordinance on Wednesday, July 27, that mandates residents must keep garbage in their garage between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Killgore agrees with the new rule.
“It strikes me as really surprising that we don’t mandate bear-proof canisters, especially in this area,” she said. “So at the very least, I think it’s a great idea.”
The consequence of a bear stealing food or garbage is severe.
Bears will go to extreme lengths to feed themselves. In that pursuit, it’s very likely for them to damage property. If a bear becomes too aggressive in the pursuit of human food, the bear will often have to be killed, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife “bear” webpage.
“It’s kind of like when the moose gets put down because they attack a tourist that comes too close,” Walker said. “We’re kind of encroaching on their habitat, and they get killed because of it.”
For more information on how to bear-proof your home and to be more “bear aware,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife has an online guide at CPW.state.co.us.
Killgore hopes her neighbors appreciate the bears and are trying their best to not put them in danger.
“I just think being able to live next to these incredible, huge, really cool creatures is a really neat opportunity,” she said.
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