Wildlife officials push residents to be ‘bear aware,’ leave young animals alone | SummitDaily.com

Wildlife officials push residents to be ‘bear aware,’ leave young animals alone

Wildlife officers capture a bear in Woodland Park last year.
Photo from Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is urging community members to be smart this spring as bears emerge from hibernation and a new batch of young animals is born throughout the state. While catching a glimpse of Colorado’s animals is undoubtedly a thrill for visitors and lifelong residents, officials emphasized that it is everyone’s responsibility to help keep wildlife wild.

While Colorado has seen a definite increase in the number of people hitting backcountry slopes, heading to hiking trails and otherwise taking full advantage of the state’s outdoor amenities during the pandemic, it has created additional concerns about conflicts with wildlife.

“We’ve always tried to stress the importance of things like the ’leave no trace’ principles, but with millions more people out on public lands, it becomes so much more important,” Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Travis Duncan said. “… What might have been a mild problem before can be quickly exacerbated if you add a million more people on those lands. It is a concern, which is why we’re stressing those things of leaving wildlife alone, of picking up after yourself, of taking photos and not taking things with you.”

One of the major issues that will be facing the agency over the coming months will be conflicts between humans and bears. As the weather continues to warm, bears are exiting hibernation, and while they prefer natural food sources, they will take advantage of human-provided food if it’s available, according to Parks and Wildlife.

There were 4,943 reports of human-bear conflicts in 2020, according to data provided by the state agency. As a result, wildlife officers were forced to relocate 89 of the animals and euthanize 120 others they determined were habituated to human areas and couldn’t be rehabilitated. Of the nearly 5,000 reports, more than 1,600 involved trash, more than 400 involved bird feeders and more than 540 involved bears breaking into homes, garages and cars.

A bear sits on a couch after breaking into a Colorado Springs home.
Photo from Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Officials said removing attractants, like bird feeders and pet food, and using bear-resistant trash containers can go a long way toward reducing bear activity in residential areas. Individuals who spot a bear on or near their property should try to make it uncomfortable by yelling or making noise from a safe distance so that it leaves. Residents should also report bear problems to the local wildlife office by calling 970-725-6200 as soon as possible so that officers can work with the community to help find a solution and to try to push the bear back into wild areas before more drastic measures have to be taken.

“The last thing we want to do is put down a bear. Every wildlife officer absolutely hates doing that,” Assistant Area Wildlife Manager Steve McClung said. “So don’t hesitate to call us as soon as you see any bad behavior, even if it appears minor. That gives us a much better opportunity to correct the situation early.”

Duncan said another major concern for the agency is individuals interacting with young wildlife like deer, elk and pronghorn during the spring. He said individuals often will spot a young animal alone and mistakenly assume it has been abandoned. Duncan noted that while many people believe they’re acting in the best interest of the animal by intervening, they’re usually doing more harm than good.

“It happens every year,” Duncan said. “Well-meaning folks find an animal, and they want to bring it into their garage or a regional office, and they think they’re helping. It’s awesome that people care about wildlife, but we want to share with people what the appropriate steps are if they’re worried about an animal. … Usually, if you see an abandoned fawn, which I think is one of the more common things that happens, you should give it 24 hours. In almost all cases, if you just leave it alone, nature’s going to take care of itself. It’s going to be OK. The mother is most likely nearby.”

A fawn is handled by a wildlife officer at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife southeast regional office.
Photo from Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Duncan said that if the animal is still in the same place after 24 hours, or if an animal is suffering from a clear injury, community members should contact Parks and Wildlife to handle the situation. Young animals that are removed from their natural environment often cannot ever be successfully returned to the wild as the mother may stop searching or reject it because it was handled by humans and smells different.

Spring can be a particularly sensitive time for local wildlife as many animals are nesting, birthing offspring or coming out of hibernation. As such, Parks and Wildlife recommends keeping dogs leashed on trails to help avoid conflicts. Finally, feeding wildlife can put an animal’s health and safety in danger in addition to it being illegal.

For more information on being bear aware, leaving young animals alone and other resources on Colorado wildlife, visit CPW.state.co.us.

“We have a lot of great resources,” Duncan said. “I know it’s the type of thing folks might not think about until you’re seeing a bear near your house, you’re wondering how best to secure things or how best to protect wildlife. But we’ve got some really good tips about how to secure your home, how to talk to your neighbors, how to talk to folks who are trying to feed wildlife thinking they’re doing a positive thing.”

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