Prepare your trash cans: Steamboat bears emerging from hibernation |

Prepare your trash cans: Steamboat bears emerging from hibernation

A black bear jumps out of a trash bin in 2011 at the Selbe Apartments on Rollingstone Drive. As bears become more active around town, wildlife officials are stressing the ways residents can help keep them out of trouble. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Lock up your trash cans and your Subarus, Steamboat’s bears are waking up from their winter hibernation.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Commander Jerry Stabile said residents should be aware that bears coming out of hibernation are extremely hungry.

“Any opportunity they have, they’re going to take advantage of,” he said.

Police received a report of a bear eating trash in the area of Hill and Short streets Sunday, marking the first trash bear of the season, at least to Stabile’s knowledge.

Bear reports are sporadic this time of year, he said, but “once they get rolling, it’s pretty consistent throughout the summer.”

“They don’t all wake on April 1,” he said.

At the end of summer, bear calls can become more frequent as the animals work to build up fat stores to get them through the winter.

Bears eating trash creates a nuisance, as they’re not always tidy eaters, but it can also create problems for the bears. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, bears in garbage is one of the leading causes of conflicts between humans and bears.

Bears are willing to work hard to break into trash cans and even vehicles for food and, often, return to the same spot if they do find food there. Food-conditioned bears can also become aggressive as they lose their fear of humans, according to Parks and Wildlife. The agency can relocate nuisance bears, but if a bear displays aggression toward humans, it could also be euthanized.

To help prevent these conflicts, the city requires any trash stored out of doors to be kept in a wildlife-resistant container certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. If trash isn’t in an approved container, it should be stored indoors until trash pick-up day. On that day, residents should not set out their trash until 6 a.m. and should haul containers back indoors by 8 p.m.

Stabile said code enforcement officers have tried to give businesses a heads up about the impending wake-up. Officers have issued about 19 warnings to businesses with trash stored improperly in recent weeks.

First-time trash offenders receive warnings if their trash is causing problems, but those who have trash receptacles that don’t meet city code can face fines that range from $250 to $750. If a resident receives a citation, they also are required to upgrade to a wildlife-resistant trash can.

Police work with Parks and Wildlife to track nuisance bears, and police try to correct problem trash cans that consistently violate city code.

For this reason, Stabile asks citizens to report it if they see a bear in the trash.

“Trash, pet food, bird feeders and dog waste are all wildlife attractors that habituate animals to the urban interface and create potentially dangerous situations between animals and people,” Police Commander Annette Dopplick said in a news release. “Let’s all take that extra step to secure the trash can, use the bear bar on the dumpster and clean up around the yard now, so that we minimize issues over the coming months.”

Harassing wildlife is also a misdemeanor in Colorado, including damaging nests or dens, taking eggs or allowing a dog to harass wildlife. 

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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