CPW: It’s a new spring for bears in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

CPW: It’s a new spring for bears in Steamboat Springs

David J. Rehak Suma
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
It’s important that residents and businesses work to secure their trash cans and remove other attractants as bears in the area become active again.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy photo

This year, Steamboat Springs’ bear-proof trash can initiative will be in full force.

Thanks to the cooperation of the people and our refuse haulers, Steamboat Springs will become a cleaner, healthier place for its people and our wildlife. This is a vision that will be fulfilled so long as there is cooperation from everyone in the Steamboat community.

By ensuring that our community members are properly securing their trash, we drastically reduce the chance of the type of encounter that could end negatively for the people involved, the bears involved or both. Securing your trash keeps your property clean and your community happy.

Especially if you are one of our short-term-rental business owners, keeping your property orderly is one of the best ways to keep your neighbors happy and lower the liability associated with people being around habituated bears.

Every bear has a bubble of personal space where it begins to make a “flight-or-flight” decision. The higher the risk and lower the reward of staying drastically increases that bubble and increases the likelihood of a “flight” response.

You can facilitate this by being aware of your surroundings, being loud and being intentional of keeping as much distance as you can between yourself and wildlife, especially if it is a mother with young. That works on trails, as well as in town. Remember, you can always turn around or find a different route; they may not understand that.

A bear who believes that garbage is food is going to exponentially increase the odds of a fight response, for multiple reasons. Food is a reward; for a bear that is hungry, or that has been raised on trash, it is the ultimate reward.

Bears are also creatures of habit. A bear that associates trash cans with food will eventually find an unlocked house that smells like food, and if the doors or windows are unlocked, will find its way inside. A bear that is comfortable around people cannot safely cohabitate with us. Bears that associate humans with food create an unacceptable risk to people and therefore, the future of human-wildlife cohabitation.

The higher the reward an animal sees of staying, and the lower the perceived risk, the increase in the likelihood of a bears’ fight response. An animals’ level of acceptable risk from a fight also increases if their young are in the area, or if they perceive you as a threat to their food.

A fight response is our worst-case scenario. But remember, it is preventable.

If you do have a worrisome encounter with a black bear, remember that hopelessness is a bigger enemy than the bear itself. Get big and loud, throw rocks from a distance and stand your ground. If you do find yourself toe-to-toe with a black bear, fight back.

Steamboat loves its bears, and our community benefits from the satisfaction we get from living in a place where there is wildlife. We hope to share this with the people who live here and the people who are visiting. A bear sighting can be a wonderful experience, especially for those who live in places where wildlife are virtually non-existent. However, for that to happen, it must be a safe encounter.

This year, if you see a bear, appreciate it from a distance. Keep your food sources locked away, especially trash but also attractants like bird feeders, dirty grills, dog food or anything else that might be a free snack for an inquisitive omnivore.

Doing this can help keep our people and our wildlife safe. Remember, conservation and cooperation are dependent on one another. It is on us to bear the responsibility of serving as active stewards of Colorado’s Natural resources, for ourselves and our prosperity.

David J. Rehak Suma is the district wildlife manager covering Steamboat Springs and central Routt County for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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