Summit County wildlife officer urges people to help protect bear, moose
A handful of bears have been roaming around Silverthorne neighborhoods and businesses for the last few weeks, and local officials warn that, every year, human actions lead to the animals’ deaths.
Summit County district wildlife officer Elissa Knox responded to a call about a bear knocking over trash in Dillon on Monday, June 8.
So far, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer said she hasn’t responded to any calls in Breckenridge, but she expects that will soon change.
“We always end up with a lot of calls from Breckenridge throughout the summer,” she said.
Moose activity has also increased recently as she said most of the moose cows in the county have had their calves.
She said she and her fellow Summit County officer would be responding to bear and moose calls seven days a week this time of year without the help of the local police and sheriff’s office.
She urged people to avoid negligence, so an officer doesn’t have to euthanize an animal that becomes aggressive toward humans or gets too close in search of food.
Knox said she hasn’t heard of any major human-wildlife conflicts yet this year in Summit; but a moose in Steamboat injured a woman in February, and a bear in Durango sent a man to a hospital just last week.
“We don’t like to call them attacks,” said Mike Porras, CPW regional spokesman. “These animals are just responding to their instincts for survival and defense.”
Knox and Porras shared some tips for those who want to avoid interactions with wildlife that can be harmful for both human and animal:
BE BEAR AWARE
Trash is always the biggest cause of bear problems, Knox said.
“As a rule of thumb, we want people to keep their trash indoors, locked up overnight and only put it outdoors the morning of pickup,” she said. “That can help curb a lot of issues.”
Bears have a keen sense of smell that is 100 times better than a human’s and 40 times better than a bloodhound, she said. Bears can smell trash over a mile away, and they often reappear every summer in the same neighborhoods where they’ve found trash.
“They’re too smart for their own good sometimes,” she said. “They seem to know when trash days are in different neighborhoods, and they’ll show up on a weekly basis.”
She recommended that people buy and use bear-proof trash cans and dumpsters, clean them occasionally and spray them with household ammonia.
Knox applauded the local businesses, including Keystone Resort, that have been working to replace their trash receptacles with bear-proof ones, “but we still have a ways to go in Summit County,” she said.
CPW has a two-strike policy for bears found digging in trash, and officers will kill a bear the second time it becomes an issue. Bears that are aggressive, show no fear of humans or break into a home are often put down immediately, and Porras said CPW officers don’t want to euthanize any animals but must prioritize human health and safety.
“Wildlife ends up paying the price for irresponsible human behavior,” he said.
Knox encouraged residents and visitors to burn food off grills, clean anywhere where food was prepared outside and secure pet food, which can also attract foxes, coyotes and raccoons. People should also close their ground-floor windows at night.
“Every summer we have a handful of bears that wander into someone’s garage because they leave their doors open at night,” Knox said.
CPW doesn’t consider a garage a true bear break-in, and she encourages people in that situation to keep their doors open until the bear leaves.
She said CPW spends much of the late spring and early summer every year educating folks who don’t have bad intentions.
Porras said, “It could be something as seemingly innocent as using birdfeeders this time of year.”
Knox said birds don’t need to be fed in the summer, but if people want to keep their feeders out they should hang them from a second-story roof or balcony or high up between two widely spaced trees. That includes bird seed and hummingbird feeders, she said, which is “like little candy snacks for a bear.”
Don’t corner or surround a bear in a dumpster; give it space to exit.
CPW doesn’t want calls about bear sightings but does want to know about aggressive bears, Knox said. The agency rarely relocates bears in Summit as they’re usually only a half-mile or less from prime bear habitat.
Porras said officers in the rest of the state are running out of wild places to move bears.
Bear spray is effective for those worried about their safety, Knox said, and can be purchased online for about $40. Humans can also scare bears away by making noise with pots and pans, whistles or airhorns.
When camping, Porras said, people should secure food and anything that smells — toothpaste, deodorant, soda cans and even clothes worn while grilling — in a bear-proof container or a properly hung bear bag.
MOVE FOR MOOSE
Though bears are the animals CPW deals with most in Summit, Knox provided a few tips for properly living in moose country.
The large, tall animal’s primary natural enemy is the wolf, so dogs can trigger defensive aggression in moose, especially when dogs are off leash or walking on a long leash.
A dog that approaches or barks at a moose could cause the moose to stampede toward the dog, which then runs back to its owner, leading to the moose trampling the person.
Knox said people should keep their dogs close and on leashes to avoid injury to themselves and their pet.
“Everyone likes to think that they can control their dogs,” Knox said, but she knows even her three dogs will get excited and chase something.
If a moose injures a person, CPW will kill the moose. Law enforcement officers can charge dog owners with harassment of wildlife, and officers are even authorized to shoot a dog seen bothering a wild animal.
Knox also advised people to pay extra attention and drive slowly this time of year when moose and other animals are active, especially at dawn, dusk and through the night. Moose love water, and Summit’s roads tend to follow rivers and streams.
Drivers who do strike wildlife should call CPW so officers can try to salvage meat and other parts of animal and record the incident.
LEAVE THE BABES
Elk and deer have recently dropped their calves and fawns, and Knox said people who stumble upon the babies sometimes think they are abandoned and pick them up.
CPW responded to four incidents last year in Summit when people picked up fawns. She said residents often take them home, the animals get sick and then CPW has to euthanize them.
Know that elk and deer mothers leave their young for hours at a time, Knox said, and people should never pick up baby wildlife.
Don’t walk between a mother and her babies and don’t let pets get close.
Dogs off-leash will find young wildlife and can bite and hurt the animals or scare them out of their hiding places, leaving the calves and fawns vulnerable to coyotes, bears and other predators or too far away for their mothers to find them.
“Dogs can have a really negative effect on baby wildlife, so there’s a lot of good reasons to keep your dog on a leash,” Knox said, including unseen mountain lions.
A handful of dogs are killed and eaten every year by mountain lions in Colorado, she said.
In general, never feed or harass wildlife or approach in a way that changes the animal’s behavior. Take photos from a distance, Knox said, and don’t expect CPW to remove wildlife.
“Look at where you live,” she said. “You got to be responsible and do your part.”
For more information or to report an aggressive animal, call the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Hot Sulphur Springs at (970) 725-6200. CPW can provide information for community newsletters and can arrange for a Bear Aware program volunteer to talk to an HOA or other group.
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