Bears are in bed, but winter wildlife risks still exist

Thanks to the cold air it was easy to see this elk's breath as it made its way across a snow covered fairway at Haymaker Golf Course east of Steamboat Springs on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Elk and moose are migrating to lower elevation, but can still be found throughout Routt County.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As heavy snowstorms are driving mammals to lower elevations, it‘s worth noting that Steamboat Springs isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to the dangers posed by wildlife.

The most recent bear sighting reported to local law enforcement happened around 2 p.m. Nov. 25 on Village Drive, a day that had a bit of snow, an average temperature of 22.5 degrees Fahrenheit and a high of 37 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures have been colder this week, and the weekend snowstorm might put those few straggling bears to bed for the season. However, Rachael Gonzales, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said it’s worth reminding the public not to give bears a spot on their property to hibernate, especially elevated decks without coverings underneath. 

Earlier this week, Castle Pines City Council member Roger Hudson returned home from Thanksgiving travels to find a black bear sleeping under the deck of his house. A similar incident happened in October in Durango, where a 400-pound bear was found under an elevated deck of a residence. Both bears were tranquilized and relocated. 

Gonzales said CPW doesn’t expect bears to be around the Steamboat area for much longer, but the agency does encourage people to cover the bottoms of elevated decks and to be mindful of warm spaces where bears might try to snuggle into. 

Additionally, elk, deer and moose still pose high risks, especially along roads with poor visibility during dawn and dusk, according to Gonzales, who encourages drivers to keep distractions to a minimum. 

“Especially right now,” Gonzales said. “It’s mule deer rut season, so you may see them along the road, but a lot of wildlife — elk, deer, moose — they’re making their way down to winter habitat.” 

Rut season is another way of saying “mating season” — a time when bucks are known to become unpredictable, as witnessed on Nov. 28 when a CPW intern in La Plata county recorded two bucks sparring for a mate on the side of a road south of Durango.  

Gonzales also said that right now it’s especially important for people to keep their dogs on leashes when recreating in areas with wildlife. 

She explained that during this time of year, animals are trying to maintain their fat stores for the winter, and off-leash dogs can startle wildlife, causing them to move unnecessarily and burn much-needed calories.

“If you’ve got a dog off leash running around, it could cause (wildlife) to move, which could cause them to burn unnecessary calories that they need,” Gonzales said.

Moose and dogs particularly don’t play well together, Gonzales said, explaining that moose see dogs as a predator and are known to go after dogs depending on how threatened the moose feels. 

“Steamboat definitely has a lovely little moose population,” Gonzales said. 

There are also seasonal closures in place to protect elk habitat.

Mandatory elk habitat closures in and around Steamboat Springs remain in place through April 15.
US Forest Service/Courtesy

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