Six bears euthanized in Routt County this summer, but overall encounters are down
Residents urged to lock up trash, food through Thanksgiving
Six bears were euthanized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials across the greater Routt County area so far in the summer of 2022 after entering homes for food rewards, officials reported this week.
Christy Bubenheim, educator for the local CPW Bear Aware program, said the Region 10 office in Steamboat Springs received 23 reports so far this summer of bears going into unsecured homes or buildings seeking food. She suspects many similar encounters may have occurred but were not reported.
“The bears learn one time these buildings (yield) major food rewards,” Bubenheim said, noting five bears had to be euthanized by this time in 2021. “They can’t unlearn these huge rewards. You can’t unteach that behavior.”
Bubenheim stressed the importance of closing and locking all first-floor windows and doors to prevent bears from learning that human buildings are the source of significant calories, especially during the current stage of hyperphagia.
This is the time of year when bears eat up to 20 hours a day driven by a biological need to fatten up before denning for the winter. Bubenheim said residents need to be vigilant about locking up trash and food attractants until approximately Thanksgiving.
“Bear activity has been fairly average (this summer), but we’ve definitely noticed an upward trend in unsecured doors and windows,” Bubenheim said. “It just takes one time for that bear to learn that behavior as an awesome source of calories.”
Bubenheim is scheduled to attend the sixth annual International Human-Bear Conflicts Workshop at Lake Tahoe in October and will continue local educational talks. However, saving local bears requires more help from community members, Bubenheim said, and more residents volunteering with the Bear Aware education program.
She also encourages residents to report human-bear encounters to CPW so that officers can track animal patterns and work to educate residents to help prevent bears from being put down.
Steamboat II resident Larry Jordan said his small wooden outdoor shed was broken into by a large neighborhood bear four times this summer. He tried reinforcing the shed by adding metal strips to the door. After an on-site consultation with two CPW officers, the family decided to place their trash outside the shed in a new Kodiak Products bear-resistant trash can. They also used ammonia-soaked rags as well as a stocking filled with pungent smelling moth balls to dissuade the bear.
“That seemed to do the trick,” Jordan said this week, as the bear has not gained access to the family’s trash in a month.
Bubenheim said some bears have learned how to open some brands of bear-resistant trash toters by turning them on their side, so toters also can be strapped securely to a strong post. She said most of the bears getting into trash toters and dumpsters are related to humans not securing locks and latches.
“Bears are smart and stronger than we give them credit for, and keep that in mind when working on ideas to keep cans upright,” Bubenheim said.
Bubenheim said community members can enjoy seeing bears from a distance for one minute and then need to make bears uncomfortable by honking vehicle horns, yelling or banging heavy items. Residents can learn more at steamboatsprings.net/bearaware or ask questions via firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Region 10, when comparing the drier summer of 2021 to the current wetter summer, overall reported bear encounters are down. Road kills were down from four in 2021 to zero as of Aug. 7. However, one young bear was hit and killed Aug. 22 near Rabbit Ears Pass.
Brad Banulis, CPW senior terrestrial biologist for northwestern Colorado, said bears faired better at higher elevations in Colorado this year with wetter conditions and not as well at lower-elevation, drier conditions. Statewide as of Aug. 7, 66 bears had been killed on roads and 53 bears euthanized, CPW Public Information Officer Rachael Gonzales reported.
Bubenheim also said four bears were relocated from Routt County so far this year because they were inadvertently caught in CPW traps but were not the correct bear identified as entering a home. Relocating bears is a common question by residents but is not often possible, she said.
“Relocation is not a fix at all when we’ve still got people who are not securing the trash. If we relocate these bears, there is nowhere we can put them where they can thrive. If these communities and neighborhoods don’t fix these trash rewards, it’s just going to continue to be an issue with these animals coming into these neighborhoods,” she said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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