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Bears active in High Country as hibernation time nears

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

Four bears died the same mid-August day in Summit County, all victims of coming into town for an easy meal, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Shannon Schwab said.

A sow and her three cubs had come to town along Highway 6, and she was hit and killed. Frightened and looking for safety, two of her cubs climbed a powerline pole and were electrocuted. The final cub was running around, lost, and Schwab trapped it using its dead mother. The cub will be in a rehabilitation room through the winter and will be released into the wild this spring.

That same day, a bear was hit by a car along Interstate 70 by the Frisco Main Street exit.

“That’s all related to bears coming around people,” Schwab said.

Bears have been mostly absent from towns this spring and summer because of the wet weather and plenty of food supply.

“That might not continue through fall,” Schwab said.

It’s right about now that bears’ brains switch modes. They become active day and night, feeding for up to 20 hours per day to fatten up for winter. The frenzy lasts until late October or early November. And though there’s food available in the wild, they’re looking for an easier meal.

Mary and Dick Clark, who live in Silverthorne by Ptarmigan Mountain, have had first-hand experience with a sow who learned there’s bird food available at their house. The couple tried to pull the feeders in at night, but mama bear busted in anyway.

“(She) was back again during the night,” Mary Clark said via voicemail on Sunday. “This time, she tore down two big pieces of plywood that Dick had put up to keep her from getting in – because we didn’t have a door anymore – and she apparently got frustrated because she didn’t have any food in here this time. She tore (up) our storage room. She bent a 6-foot-tall storage unit and just tore everything to smithereens in here.”

According to the Division of Parks and Wildlife, a 50-pound bag of bird seed has over 87,000 calories – a reward for the bear and well worth the effort of breaking in.

Schwab advises local homeowners to think of a bear filing their home away as a food source as a long-term problem.

Bears live a decade or more, she said. If a sow knows there’s food available, she’ll teach her cubs during the year-and-a-half they spend together. The cubs grow up foraging in the areas it knows, and the females teach it to their offspring. It can be an endless cycle.

“Adolescent bears are just like teenage people who are trying to figure out where they belong,” Schwab said, explaining that once they leave their mother, they’re finding their territory, food sources and more. “And just like teenage people … if they’re not taught the right thing, they can get into trouble later on.”

The key is eliminating attractants like garbage, bird feeders, pet food and more. Garbage kills bears not because it’s nutritionally bad for them, Schwab said, it’s more because it teaches them to come near people for food for a lifetime. Five to seven bears are killed annually in this area along roadways.

In the Clarks’ case, bird feeders – even when pulled in at night – attracted the bear.

“We don’t want to have bears breaking in,” Schwab said, “But people have to realize that if they’ve trained the bear that their house is a source of food … their house is locked into their memory at least to check for food again.”

Schwab said she gets calls from individuals who want problem bears relocated. But she advises moving bears won’t solve the problem.

“If one is relocated, another will take its place,” she said. “It’s a problem with people fixing their garbage.”

She added that not all bears in town are aggressive. Instead, the creature has more often learned to tolerate people to get food.


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