1st bear killed by wildlife officers in Colorado after relocation from Steamboat

A 2-year-old black bear who got into several Steamboat Springs trash cans last week was killed Monday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers in Meeker. Every year, officers have to kill bears across the state to protect the public and agriculture.
Courtesy Kevin Dietrich

Editor’s note: This story was edited at 6:18 p.m. April 18.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A bear relocated from Steamboat Springs last week was killed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers Monday after it disturbed a farmer’s beehive near Meeker. 

This marks the first bear the agency has destroyed in the state this year. Kris Middledorf, the Steamboat area’s wildlife manager, assisted in the bear’s relocation and was disheartened to learn of its death.

“It’s the worst day for wildlife officers who go into this business to conserve wildlife, and then, they have to go put an animal down,” he said. 

He posted an update on the incident on Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Facebook page Thursday morning, urging local residents to be vigilant about securing their trash and other wildlife attractants as well.   

“Please realize that the fate of this bear and others is dependent on our actions as a community to minimize and eliminate human-supplied food sources,” he wrote in the post.

The 2-year-old, male black bear had been relocated to an area outside Meeker last Monday after getting into several residential dumpsters in Steamboat and dragging trash bags across the street. Officers tranquilized the bear after it approached a day care center. They claimed the animal posed a threat to children in the area. 

They transported the creature to a rural area outside Meeker, hoping it would find enough food there to keep it away from people.

“We wanted to give this bear another opportunity,” Middledorf said. 

When Parks and Wildlife officers handle a nuisance bear for the first time, they mark it with a tag. A two-strike system necessitates that officers kill the bear if it causes another problem. 

This bear’s second strike occurred when it came across an apiary and destroyed a bee farmer’s hive to get to the honey inside. As Middledorf explained, Parks and Wildlife is liable for agricultural damage caused by big game wildlife and has to prioritize the interests of the farmer over the animal. 

As a mitigation measure, the agency sometimes provides electric fencing to apiaries, which tend to attract more bears than other types of farms. Unfortunately for those honey-loving animals, privately-owned beehives have become more common in the region.

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of apiaries in the area,” Middledorf said. 

As a result, the agency can only afford to provide fencing to apiaries where bears are most active. 

Every year, Parks and Wildlife officers have to put down bears deemed a threat or nuisance to the public. The number varies from year to year and depends on the weather and availability of natural food sources, according to Mike Porras, the agency’s public information officer for the northwest region.

“In many case, bears have found they can find plenty of food in residential areas,” he said. 

Last year, officers relocated 18 bears in the region, which includes Routt County, but had to kill eight after rehabilitation efforts failed. Of those eight bears, five were killed in the Steamboat area, according to Porras. 

Many people, including some local residents, argue Parks and Wildlife officers should be more lenient with bears and allow them to go free as long as they do not hurt anyone. The problem, Porras explained, is officers put down these animals as a preventative measure before they can harm anyone. 

“Ultimately, this is all about human health and safety,” he said. 

That is why Middledorf encourages residents to take more responsibility to keep wildlife away from town. The city has certain rules about securing trash, bird feeders and other attractants, as well as fines for people who violate those rules. 

“It is ultimately the responsibility of our community to coexist with these animals,” he said. 

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