Drought can lead to more problem encounters; Colorado Division of Wildlife looking for volunteers to reduce potential conflicts between humans and bears
By Bob Berwyn
Video by Jenney Coberly
SUMMIT COUNTY — Every year, state wildlife managers and law enforcement officers have to kill bears for doing what comes naturally — foraging for food. But it’s not the bears out in the woods eating grubs and berries that are a problem.
Concerns don’t arise until the wild animals sample human food from unsecured garbage cans, bird feeders or backyard barbecues. Once they’ve acquired the taste, they tend to keep coming back for more. That’s when unwanted encounters with humans occur, and they usually end badly for the bears.
Bears who get into serious trouble (such as breaking into a house or other property damage) are ear-tagged the first time and usually transported to a new area as far from humans as possible. But, if the tagged bear gets into serious trouble a second time, the state’s wildlife management policy calls for the bear to be killed.
Depending what happens the next few weeks, this year’s sparse snow cover could exacerbate the issue. The problem with not having good snow cover is that can affect natural food supplies for bears.
“In a drought, they have to find other sources for food, and that could include garbage and bird feeders,” said Gail Marshall, head of Summit County’s Bear Aware program, which trains volunteers in community outreach to forestall problems.
“It’s not like baseball. They don’t get three strikes. On the second strike they’re out. I know the wildlife officers don’t like doing it,” Marshall said. Colorado residents, and people in Summit County in particular, have made great strides in learning to live with bears, but there’s always more work to be done, especially in communities where there’s a big population turnover each year.
Educating residents about how to secure their garbage and how to safely store items that could be attractive to the animals is the focus of the program. That’s where the Bear Aware program comes in.
“We try to go into neighborhoods before bears become an issue and talk to people … We’re kind of like the first wave. We hand out flyers, we go to homeowner associations, we’ve set up booths at the barbecue event, and we have a float in 4th of July parade,” Marshall said. “We have a lot of square miles to cover. The more people involved the better.”
Marshall has been looking for Summit County’s bears since 1998, and she is looking to train more volunteers to help spread the word. An information and recruitment meeting for the program is scheduled for April 8, 6 to 8 p.m. in the Buffalo Mountain Room at the County Commons in Frisco.
The meeting is also for people interested in working with the Division of Wildlife as part of the wildlife transport team, which responds to reports of injured wildlife and can help bring the animals to CDOW offices, veterinarians or rehabilitation facilities.
Watch the Summit Voice video interview with Marshall to learn more.
For more information about the Summit County Transport or Bear Aware teams, contact the Division of Wildlife in Hot Sulphur Springs at (970) 725-6200.
Filed under: Colorado Division of Wildlife, Summit County Colorado, video, wildlife Tagged: | Bear Aware, bears, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Gail Marshall, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, Summit County wildlife, wildlife