At Frisco talk, Breckenridge ‘Bear Lady’ shares wisdom of co-habitating with black bear, moose | SummitDaily.com

At Frisco talk, Breckenridge ‘Bear Lady’ shares wisdom of co-habitating with black bear, moose

While speaking to a crowd of roughly 50 people inside the Frisco Historic Park's Log Chapel on Wednesday, Gail Marshall pulled out a small tub of Smart Balance margarine spread.

Opening up the tub, she unraveled a plastic bag and inside were several spud-sized grassy pellets — the kind of scat only found after black bears first rise from winter hibernation.

"Now, I have saved this scat for years in my freezer," Marshall told the crowd as one seated audience member rotated to pass the tub along to the adjacent person.

"That was, like, such a find," Marshall said with a laugh. "It really was."

Known as "The Bear Lady" to some around Summit County, the longtime Breckenridge resident on Wednesday presented about properly co-existing alongside bears and moose in Summit County.

Just because it's not black doesn't mean it's a grizzly

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Marshall was clear to point out that "black bear" is a term to describe the North American species indigenous to Colorado, not necessarily a description of their coat. In fact, she showed a picture of a black bear with blonde hair found in Summit County to illustrate the fact that black bears adapt to their environment's colors.

"The bears in Blue River are darker than the bears in Breckenridge," Marshall said. "And the bears in Breckenridge are also much heartier than the bears in Blue River, because they have better food. The garbage is better in Breckenridge than in Blue River."

Ooh, that sound

On the topic of how bears communicate, Marshall shared a story from 18 years ago in Breckenridge. Back then, at around Thanksgiving, a bear had hibernated beneath the deck to a house. With short-term vacationers set to stay in the home for a weekend, something had to be done.

"So the wildlife officers went to go get it," Marshall said. "And the bear woke up while they were there, and started clicking and then charged them. Fortunately, the tranquilizer took effect. When bears are letting you know they don't want you there, they do that clicking with their jaw."

How old are you?

Along with the sheer size of a black bear, one can determine the age of a specific animal based on the placement of their ears. Older bears' ears are located lower on the head while the younger the bear, the more they perk skyward.

But how many bears live here?

According to a census conducted just last year, Marshall said it's estimated between 18,000 and 20,000 black bears live in Colorado. In Summit County, the most recent estimate is at 300, though bears, of course, don't stick to county lines drawn by humans.

Big bear

Marshall said the largest black bear ever found in Colorado was actually harvested — or killed — by a hunter in Dillon Cemetery. Though most bears don't surpass 400 pounds, this one tipped the scales.

"About 800 pounds," Marshall said. "That was the largest one ever harvested in the state of Colorado. Very unusual."

Moose vs. dogs

The one point Marshall stressed above any other when speaking of moose was for Summit County recreationists to understand how their dogs are viewed by wild animals.

Since wolves are their natural predator, moose don't tolerate dogs. It's to the point where they will stomp a dog to death, she said. Marshall's advice was to make sure your dog is on a leash when venturing through terrain known for moose, such as wetlands or local cross-country ski centers near water.

"I can remember I was hiking up on Breckenridge Ski Resort's Peak 7 with my husband and two dogs. There was this beautiful meadow up there, and all of a sudden my golden lab stopped and assumed the pointer position. Something we'd never seen before. We thought, 'what is she doing?' And my husband goes, 'ah!' And right in front of us was a family of moose."