Bears in cars, bears in condos: Don't be the next victim of a bear burglary |

Bears in cars, bears in condos: Don’t be the next victim of a bear burglary

A pair of bears stroll through the Pines Condos on Thursday in Steamboat Springs.
Joel Reichenberger

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Seeing a bear roaming the streets or munching on unsecured trash is not so rare a sight in Steamboat Springs. The exposure to wildlife can be a perk — or a nuisance — to living in mountain towns, but it is an unavoidable way of life. 

With bears out of hibernation and looking for food at lower elevations until food becomes available in the high country, law enforcement and wildlife officials have recorded a seasonal spike in bear calls, which is typical this time of year.

According to Steamboat Springs Police Department records, officers have received about 103 calls about bears so far this year. Instances of bears digging in trash from unsecured dumpsters are common and avoidable, but more serious incidents include bears breaking into people’s cars or residences in search of a meal. 

On June 13, a bear cub entered the lobby of a condominium complex. Shortly after, a bear locked itself inside a laundry room at another complex. 

Sgt. Shane Musgrave with the Steamboat Springs Police Department said during the warmer summer months, people tend to leave the doors and windows open to their cars and homes. That is exactly what attracts bears to homes and vehicles.

“If there’s food inside, a bear is going to wander around and go toward the scent of food,” he said. 

As Kris Middledorf, a local wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, explained, such break-ins are also avoidable. 

“It’s as simple as locking your doors,” he said. 

How to secure your home and car from bears
  • Lock doors and windows to cars and homes when not around.
  • Do not leave food inside cars.
  • Keep garage doors shut.
  • Store all trash in bear-resistant containers.
  • Keep unsecured trash cans inside.

*Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Steamboat Springs Police Department

In his 13-year career, Middledorf has never seen a bear get into a locked vehicle with the windows up. 

He went on to describe how a bear, despite its lack of opposable thumbs, can unlatch a car door to get inside. If a window has been left partially open, it can use its claws to pull away the glass and get inside. 

As humans encroach further into natural habitats, wildlife encounters will likely become more, not less, common. As Middledorf said, it is people’s responsibilities to take precautions to keep bears away from human food. 

“People need to do everything they can to minimize conflicts with black bears,” he said. 

The bears that live in this area are black bears, which are not naturally aggressive, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. However, these bears may injure someone who gets between them and food, or if they view a human as a threat to nearby cubs. 

When a bear begins to eat human-supplied food from dumpsters, cars and residences, they lose their fear of people, according to Middledorf. They wander within the city limits more frequently and become bolder with their break-ins.

“It creates a very dangerous situation for the community,” Middledorf said. 

Police received a report Tuesday of a bear that has been living under a trailer in the 1300 block of Dream Island Plaza after getting accustomed to eating trash in the area.

Wildlife officers typically operate under a two-strike rule when it comes to bear incidents. If they catch a bear that has caused a disturbance and poses a threat to humans, officers will try to relocate the bear in an attempt to encourage the animal to stay away from people. 

“But any bear that is captured a second time by CPW is going to be put down,” Middledorf said. 

For many, especially wildlife officers, this is a tragic outcome. 

“Not one of the district wildlife managers who works in this state wakes up in the morning wanting to put down a black bear,” Middledorf said. “But due to people’s irresponsible behavior, they ultimately have to be the ones to pull a trigger on that animal.”

In such instances, wildlife officers must prioritize the safety of humans over that of wildlife. Officers have a zero-tolerance policy for a bear that enters a residence and must kill the animal to prevent injuries to humans.

In addition to keeping doors and windows closed and locked, people must also secure their trash cans according to city ordinances. Violators face fines of up to $750.

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