Summit County officials push residents and visitors to minimize conflicts with wildlife
FRISCO — Officials are asking residents and visitors to do their part in helping to keep Colorado’s wildlife wild.
Community members in Summit County have a daily responsibility to live peacefully with the area’s animal populations year-round, but that obligation tends to be highlighted during the fall months as bears go on the search for food before hibernation and moose set up territories for breeding season.
While getting to catch a glimpse of a bear, moose or one of the state’s other alluring creatures is undoubtedly a thrill, human interactions with wild animals are always risky.
“We’re seeing a lot more visitation right now to our public lands and our state parks,” said Travis Duncan, a spokesperson with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We just want to remind folks to care for Colorado right now, and to practice those ‘leave no trace’ principles. That applies to wildlife, too.”
Local bears are currently in hyperphagia, an annual stage in their hibernation cycle when they’re trying to pack on as much weight as they can before settling down for winter. For black bears, that usually means gorging on berries, fruits, nuts and scavenged carcasses. But it also can mean trips into more residential and urban areas for an easy meal.
Frisco’s Marketing and Communications Director Vanessa Agee said heightened bear activity already has been observed in town over the past two weeks, including frequent instances of bears getting into unsecured trash receptacles, and numerous sightings of a bear and her cub roaming around near Main Street.
“We’re seeing trash cans being put out early the night before pickup, and there’s clear evidence that bears have gotten into the trash,” Agee said. “The issue becomes that habituating bears to food sources like trash means that they’ll probably at some point have interactions with humans, which will likely mean Colorado Parks and Wildlife has to be called. Bears do end up being euthanized on nuisance type behavior, and that’s the last thing we want.”
Duncan said most bears have a healthy fear of humans, but those who have been habituated to feeding in towns and residential areas might be more difficult to shoo away and can even become aggressive in seeking food by breaking into trash cans, cars and homes.
Once a bear becomes a problem, parks and wildlife has the difficult job of determining whether it can be rehabilitated — taught to fear humans again and avoid residential areas — or if it has lost its natural instincts and needs to be euthanized.
Luckily, there are a number of easy steps that mountain residents can take to help prevent the worst-case scenario. Community members should always put their trash and recyclables out the morning of pickup instead of the night before and should use bear-resistant containers.
Residents also should remove any bird feeders, dog food and other good-smelling attractants from outside their homes, and make sure to properly close and lock the doors to their cars, garages and homes.
Officials say residents also should teach bears that they’re not welcome in their yard or close to their home, and should scare them away with a firm yell or other loud noise. Duncan emphasized that individuals trying to scare off a bear should make sure it has a clear escape route and should call parks and wildlife to take over the situation if the bear won’t leave. People should never approach a bear.
Duncan said the bears likely will continue packing on pounds until about mid-November, when they typically enter hibernation.
Community members also should be on the lookout for other large animals like moose, which are considered very territorial and could become more aggressive during rut season.
Every year, there are conflicts between humans and moose caused by individuals purposefully getting too close to try to touch or photograph the animals, or by accidentally coming across one on the trails. While typically unconcerned with humans, moose are known to attack on occasion, especially in the presence of dogs.
Dog owners should always walk their dogs on a leash, and if a moose does show signs of aggression — laid back ears, raised hackles, snout licking — individuals should run away and try to put a large object like a tree or boulder between them and the moose.
Duncan said other large animals that often aren’t considered dangerous also might be more aggressive during this time of year.
“We need to give all wildlife, especially those big animals, their space,” Duncan said. “Elk and deer are also entering their rut season. And we think of deer as being fairly docile, but during a rut, they can become quite aggressive, and we do have reports each year of them attacking dogs or humans.”
Parks and wildlife recommends a literal “rule of thumb” for determining whether you’re a safe distance away from an animal. Duncan said that if you straighten your arm and hold up your thumb, it should be able to completely cover the animal. If not, you’re likely too close.
“For us, it’s a matter of reminding folks to be respectful of wildlife and not to anthropomorphize these animals,” Agee said. “They’re not humans, and we want to remind everyone to give them a wide berth. Whether it’s bears, moose or any other wildlife you see, they’re not here for us to try and pet or take pictures for Instagram or Facebook. It’s not worth their lives or yours.”
For more information about living with Colorado’s wildlife, including how to do so safely and responsibly, visit CPW.state.co.us.
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