Stay ‘bear aware’: Recent attacks prompt reminders to secure food, trash in and around Steamboat
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After a series of recent attacks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reminding people to be “bear aware” while camping and hiking.
The announcement, published in a CPW news release Tuesday, comes after two people suffered injuries in bear attacks last week. A man in Aspen was rushed to the hospital July 10 after a black bear clawed his head and neck. The animal had broken into the man’s kitchen, according to news reports.
The previous night, a mother bear scratched a woman’s back just south of Manitou Springs as she was walking home from work.
In such incidents, bears often face the graver consequences. Wildlife officers hold the public’s safety paramount and will relocate or euthanize bears that pose threats to people. Both bears from the attacks last week were killed as a way of protecting the public, according to CPW spokesperson Randy Hampton.
In Routt County, wildlife officers killed two additional bears last week after conflicts with people. On July 9, a bear broke into a resident’s kitchen in the 700 block of Anglers Pond. The next day, another bear killed several cattle at a ranch in South Routt, according to Hampton.
Despite this recent series of incidents, bear-related calls actually are down compared to this time last year, Hampton said. As of Tuesday, CPW had received 101 reports of bear incidents in 2020. This time last year, the agency had received 204 such reports.
Black bears typically are not aggressive toward humans and tend to avoid people if possible, Hampton said. Most conflicts arise from easily accessible human food, trash or other attractants that drive a bear to overcome its usual fears. Wildlife officers and local law enforcement routinely field calls about bears breaking into trash cans, many of which have been left unsecured.
While hiking or camping, people might attract bears with their food or trash if not properly stored.
“It doesn’t mean there is not natural food available,” Hampton explained. “It means steadily accessible human food is a bigger attractant oftentimes.”
He offered the example of a berry bush versus someone’s tossed-away pizza box. When it comes to choosing the option that offers more sustenance, the human food source is the more likely decision.
“The greasy cardboard from your pizza has more calories than that entire berry bush,” Hampton said.
In an effort to reduce conflicts with bears, CPW and the city of Steamboat Springs have passed new rules in recent months regarding the storing of food and other wildlife attractants.
As of June, campers at developed recreation sites in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest must properly secure all of their food in bear-resistant containers. All food and other wildlife attractants must be stored in bear-resistant containers unless people are actively preparing a meal, eating or transporting food. Attractants also can be stored inside a vehicle or hard-sided camper as long as items remain in a sealed container, according to the new rule from the U.S. Forest Service.
People who violate the order could receive a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in prison, according to the rule. Organizations found guilty could face up to a $10,000 fine and six months in prison.
In May, Steamboat Springs City Council passed an ordinance that requires residents to store their trash in bear-resistant containers or within a bear-resistant enclosure. Trash containers cannot be placed on the curbside earlier than 6 a.m. on trash pickup days and must be taken back inside that same day.
Bird feeders, another bear attractant, are not allowed within city limits from April 15 to Nov. 15 unless they are hung in such a way that bears could not get to them, according to the ordinance.
What to do in a bear encounter
To minimize the risk of bear encounters, CPW offers some helpful tips for campers and hikers. Food, trash and other attractants should be stored in bear-proof containers, which certain developed campsites offer. Otherwise, people should bring their own or store items in sealed containers in their vehicles.
Campers are advised to clean any surfaces of food residue and smell, such as grills and dishes. They should never bring food inside their tents, and vehicles and RVs should be kept locked and windows tightly closed.
If a bear enters a campsite, people should try to scare it away with loud noises such as yelling, banging pots and pans together or using a car horn or an air horn.
Hikers and campers should carry bear spray in case they encounter a bear as an extra precaution, CPW emphasized.
If a bear acts aggressively, CPW recommends people fight back using any items available, such as trekking poles, small knives or even their hands. People should not try to run away from the bear or play dead, according to the wildlife agency.
For more information on how to be “bear aware,” visit cpw.state.co.us.
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