Summit County bears are waking up from hibernation, and wildlife officials are urging caution | SummitDaily.com

Summit County bears are waking up from hibernation, and wildlife officials are urging caution

Christopher Fletcher and his wife Kori Fox were hanging out at home at the Silver Shekel neighborhood in Breckenridge around 11 p.m. Monday night when they heard loud noises outside.

"I started hearing this thump, thump, thump," Fletcher said. "We looked around the house to figure out where it was coming from, and I heard my wife yell down, 'There's a bear in the driveway!'"

They watched from a second-floor window as a large black bear got hold of their trashcan.

"He rolled the full trashcan down the driveway like it was a beach ball," Fletcher said. "It was dark out so I couldn't get a good look at it, but that was a pretty big bear."

Luckily, Fletcher is a handyman, and had already MacGyvered his own bear-proof trashcan with metal plating, carabiners, nuts and bolts. It's a service he offers to neighbors and anyone else looking to keep bears out of their refuse. His first field test turned out to be a success. "The bear couldn't get in, and there were just teethmarks on the bin where he tried to."

Fletcher then got to the task of chasing the bear off.

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"I went to my upper patio and started yelling at him through my kitchen window. He eventually took off, but not very quickly."

Fletcher's encounter is the first reported human-bear conflict in Summit this spring, and unlikely to be the last as the famished carnivores stir from hibernation and lumber around in search of food.

"The bears are definitely awake," said Elissa Slezak, CPW's district wildlife manager for Summit County. "It's going to be a tough bear year too, since we didn't get moisture and they're going to work harder to find their natural food sources. Human sources are that much more appealing, especially when they're easy to get into."

As spring awakens, Slezak said that Summit residents should start the process of "bearproofing their life" early this season. Unsecured dumpsters and trashcans are black bear beacons.

"The main attractant for bears is trash," Slezak said. "The best thing people can do is secure their trash, keep it in bearproof cans and dumpsters, and to not put their trash out at night. In Breckenridge and Frisco, it's illegal to put out trash at night or put it out before 6 a.m. in morning for this very reason."

Slezak also recommends a common household chemical to keep bears away.

"Ammonia is a very good bear deterrent, and cheap," she said. "Spraying down trash cans with ammonia is a good way to keep bears away."

Mike Porras, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Northwest division, laid the consequences of careless practices in stark detail.

"If people tolerate bears in their neighborhood, feed it or leave their trash unsecured, they're sentencing those bears to death," Porras said. He explained that bears only have one chance to be tranquilized and relocated if they become too comfortable or aggressive around humans. On the second strike, CPW are forced to put the bear down. Porras said that CPW was forced to put down 72 bears in the Northwest region last year and two in Summit.

"Unfortunately, our officers have to carry out that execution, and that is very hard on them," Porras said. "That's not what they signed up to do, nor is it what they want to do. But human health and safety is our priority. If you love wildlife, the best way to protect them is to avoid feeding them and avoid inviting them into our neighborhoods."

At the same time, Porras wanted to caution residents from reporting just any old bear sighting to CPW. "We know people see bears, that's one of the great things about Colorado. But if a bear is scared away and doesn't return to a neighborhood, or if they're seen in the wild, we don't need to hear about that," he said. "What we're looking for is conflict, any type of aggression or a bear becoming too comfortable in a neighborhood. Those are the calls we want. "

By Porras' assessment, Fletcher did the right thing in bearproofing his trash and scaring the bear away from a safe distance. Fletcher did not wind up reporting the incident to CPW either, noting that his house was in a wildlife thoroughfare and that the bear seemed harmless.

"He definitely had a healthy respect for me yelling at him," Fletcher said.