Our View: Nuisance bears a solvable problem | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Nuisance bears a solvable problem

Steamboat Springs and the surrounding areas have seen a marked increase in bear encounters during the past couple of years, with the sad result often being the removal or destruction of the animals.

The trend likely will continue this spring and summer as development further encroaches on black bear habitat, and as the bears continue to become accustomed to our presence and the food sources we provide them.

But let there be no misunderstanding: people, not bears, are the problem. Fortunately, there are some relatively simple steps each of us can take to reduce bear interactions and their reliance on us for food.

Much of Steamboat Springs and Routt County is bear habitat. Their native food sources surround our homes and neighborhoods. As bears forage for vast quantities of food in preparation for their long winter hibernation, they find themselves in the midst of a semi-urban environment rife with feeding opportunities – from unsecured trash cans and Dumpsters to birdfeeders, dog food and barbecue grills. There also was a sharp increase last year in the number of bears found entering homes and garages in search of food.

Once a bear finds a new source of food, it will continue to return for more. It’s at this point that bears become “nuisance” animals that need to be relocated, or in extreme circumstances, killed.

“The bottom line is a bear is an eating machine,” said Jim Haskins, an area wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife. “If it doesn’t find it in your backyard, it’s not going to continue to visit your backyard.”

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Bears become nuisance animals only when humans foster conditions that allow them to be. Accordingly, residents and businesses should take the following steps to reduce bear interactions and protect such a wonderful natural asset:

– Do not leave pet food and birdfeeders outside overnight.

– Move barbecue grills into garages or storage sheds after using them.

– Close downstairs and garage windows.

– Obey the city of Steamboat Springs’ ordinance that forbids trash cans from being left out from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless the cans are bear- and wildlife-proof. Violators are subject to fines.

– Secure Dumpsters and larger trash receptacles.

Downtown Steamboat is full of unsecured Dumpsters behind businesses. But even the efforts of several businesses to secure their receptacles can’t make up for the businesses that don’t make a similar effort.

The city has taken the right approach by replacing ineffective bear-proof canisters in local parks with more robust trash cans. If residents and businesses follow suit, we could see a decrease in “nuisance” bears and a better future for our local black bear population.