Hungry bears: Wildlife officials urge public to secure animal attractants ahead of hibernation
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Wildlife officials are urging Routt County residents to stay “bear aware” as the animals are on the prowl for food in preparation for hibernation.
This is the time of year bears enter a phase called “hyperphagia,” during which they spend up to 20 hours per day on the hunt for 20,000 or more daily calories, according to Randy Hampton, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“They are walking stomachs this time of year,” Hampton said. “They literally are trying to do nothing more than put on weight to survive five months in hibernation.”
CPW anticipates a spike in bear-related conflicts in the coming weeks as the animals scrounge for easy, calorie-packed meals in dumpsters and other human-sourced attractants.
After an increase in incidents last year, wildlife officers fortunately have seen a slight decrease statewide so far this year. CPW received 3,644 bear reports from April 1 through Aug. 31, down from 3,855 reports during the same timeframe last year.
In Routt County, CPW has received 170 bear reports since April 1, down from 291 in 2019.
Part of the reason for the decrease, Hampton believes, is because of a relatively plentiful supply of natural food sources in the wild this summer, such as serviceberries, chokecherries and mountain apples.
Nevertheless, people should take steps to keep the animals away from neighborhoods. Being bear aware includes securing trash cans and dumpsters, removing bird feeders, closing garages, cleaning and locking doors on cars and houses.
The city of Steamboat Springs passed an ordinance in May requiring residents and businesses to keep their trash in bear-resistant containers, bear-resistant dumpsters or within a bear-resistant enclosure.
“This is the time it is critically important people don’t become complacent just because it’s been a little quiet,” Hampton urged.
If people see bears become a nuisance, they should contact CPW, Hampton added.
“A lot of people don’t call us for fear officers will kill bears. That’s just not true,” he said.
The earlier people report bears in neighborhoods, the higher the chances are officers can resolve the situation using non-lethal methods, such as hazing the animals away or relocating them from communities, Hampton added. If not, the bears continue to return for quick, easy meals.
“After two weeks of that, the bear is pretty habituated (to humans),” Hampton said, which also means the bears often become more aggressive. “At that point, we have fewer options.”
Officers prioritize public safety above all else, which means sometimes having to kill bears that threaten human lives. So far this year, wildlife officers in Routt County have relocated two bears and euthanized five, according to Hampton.
To report a bear incident, call the local CPW office at 970-870-2197.
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