Forest Service orders special precautions in Vail area
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Numerous encounters between people and bears in the high country have prompted the White River National Forest to require campers to store all food and refuse in a bear-resistant container or inside a vehicle in a sealed container.
“Due to a lack of forage bears are on the hunt for alternative sources of food, campsites and picnic areas can appear, to a bear, an easy target,” said Eagle Holy Cross deputy district ranger Matt McCombs.
“We’ve had multiple encounters at our campgrounds where bears have been rewarded for their efforts … putting their safety and campers at risk.” McCombs said, “With fall on its way and bears stocking up before hibernation, ensuring campers are being bear aware is the best way to keep everyone safe.”
Forest Service officials said drought conditions have reduced natural food sources in some areas, driving the bears to search for human sources of food as they enter a critical phase of the summer, trying to build up fat reserves for hibernation.
Campers need to ensure all food and refuse is stored or possessed during daylight hours. Possessed means an adult must be within 100 feet of the food or refuse. At night, food and refuse must be acceptably stored unless it is being consumed. This special order will remain in effect through November 22, 2012.
State wildlife officials have also issued an autumn bear warning.
“Obey local ordinances, secure your trash, remove any accessible food source and never intentionally feed a bear,” said Northwest regional manager Ron Velarde. “If more people follow just these few simple recommendations, it can reduce the possibility of conflicts.”
Velarde said information about living with bears is easy to find. Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides extensive information through their website, volunteer teams and publications. Bear information can be quickly found online at http://wildlife.state.co.us/bears.
The biological drive to fatten up before winter is known as hyperphagia – a period when a bear’s appetite increases dramatically. During this time, a bear’s food intake increases from approximately 8,000 to nearly 20,000 calories, equivalent to about 70 cheeseburgers, per day. The urge to satisfy this enormous appetite can make these large animals more likely to venture into populated areas.
The most serious problems occur when people provide easy meals to bears including: trash, pet food, bird feeders, greasy barbecue grills and ripe fruit left on trees or on the ground. In some communities, a few bears have learned to find food in kitchen pantries and refrigerators, often breaking into homes through windows or doors left unlocked or open, despite repeated warnings from wildlife officers.
Despite worrisome interactions between humans and bears prompted by careless food or trash handling each year, wildlife officials remind the public that simply seeing a bear near your home is not always a reason for concern. It may just be passing through on its search for food.
“Just because a bear is near your house doesn’t mean it is being aggressive,” said Teller County district wildlife manager Tonya Sharp. “Black bears are not typically aggressive animals – it’s probably looking for food. The closer we get to winter; bears will be searching for food up to 20 hours a day.”
Research shows that bears look for and often return to sources of an easy meal, sometimes leading to serious conflicts for both humans and for bears.
If a bear appears to be aggressively looking for food from human sources, wildlife officers recommend making it feel unwelcome by yelling forcefully or throwing rocks or sticks toward the bear. If a bear cannot be scared away or continues to remain near your house, it is a sign of aggressive behavior and calling a wildlife officer is recommended.
However, officers say that the most effective way to prevent an otherwise enjoyable bear sighting from escalating into a serious conflict is to prevent it from accessing trash and food in the first place, including pet foods and birdseed.
Although feeding birds is an enjoyable pastime for many, wildlife officers caution that birdseed is a powerful bear attractant and people are cautioned to avoid using birdfeeders between spring and fall. Birdfeeders used only during winter – when bears are hibernating – can provide supplemental food for wintering birds without the risk of attracting a bear.
Wildlife managers report that low rainfall earlier this year reduced bears’ natural food in many parts of Colorado, but it did not eliminate it. Because bears are forced to travel longer distances to find food during dry spells, increasing the possibility that they will encounter people.
“Bears are especially mobile in the fall in their quest for the highest calorie foods to put on enough fat reserves to make it through 5-6 months of hibernation,” said Janet George, senior rerrestrial biologist in Denver. “This makes it even more important for people to be diligent about securing food sources even if they’ve not had bear conflicts in the past.”
Arriving almost on schedule, mid-to-late summer monsoons resulted in the partial recovery of berries, acorns and other bear mast crops in parts of the state. In some northwestern areas of Colorado, officers report that the rains came too late for serviceberries and chokecherries, a significant source of food for bears. Although not in abundance, acorns in these areas are currently available to bears, officers said.
Wildlife managers in portions of southeast Colorado report that mast crops there are currently in good shape.
Despite strong warnings from wildlife officers, incidents of people illegally feeding bears are reported to the agency every year. Officers caution that tossing scraps of food to a bear can lead to aggressive behavior from that bear and it often becomes a threat to anyone encountering it in the future.
Since human health and safety is the primary concern, it becomes necessary for wildlife officers to kill aggressive bears.
“People that feed bears are killing them, plain and simple,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manger in Glenwood Springs. “It’s very frustrating to our officers when people condemn bears to death by feeding them – intentionally or unintentionally – because it’s our officers that have to carry the sentence out.”
Nuisance bears – those that raid dumpsters or bird feeders, for example – can be tagged and relocated by wildlife officers before the bear becomes habituated to human food sources. If a tagged bear gets into trouble a second time, shows aggression just once, or kills livestock, it cannot be relocated and must be put down immediately. Relocating bears is an option that is becoming increasingly difficult as more people move to and recreate in Colorado’s outdoors.
“Everyone needs to be extra vigilant about removing food sources for bears around their homes and property,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, Area Wildlife Manager in Montrose. “And don’t let your guard down when you’re camping. When you’re away from your camp make sure it’s clean and lock all food in a vehicle.”
Research and studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife indicate that black bears are doing well in Colorado and will be a part of the state’s abundant wildlife resource long into the future.
“We encourage people to learn how to live with bears, and all of our abundant wildlife, a valuable natural resource in our state,” said Velarde. “Providing information that helps everyone learn how to live responsibly with our wildlife will continue to be an important goal for our agency.”