A bear on the prowl for its prehibernation menu of 20,000 calories a day ended up boxed into a fenced space between houses in downtown Glenwood Springs over the weekend, and had to be euthanized.
It’s the latest sign of a season low on natural food supplies for bears, leading them frequently into western Colorado towns.
“These bears out there, they just don’t have anything to eat,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The situation is so difficult to manage that some bears that encroach on human turf on the Western Slope are being moved to southeast Colorado, where natural food sources are somewhat more plentiful, Will said.
Saturday morning in Glenwood, Peggy Dial was walking her dog when she noticed the bear apparently sleeping next to her house on Blake Avenue, about a block from Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co. and the Hotel Denver.
She called authorities, who tranquilized the 450- to 500-pound male and discovered two tags on its ear, indicating previous encounters with game wardens. Its record doomed it to being euthanized.
“Nobody knew the bear was there,” Dial said. “I think he had been sleeping off a night of trash eating.”
When a Colorado Parks and Wildlife game warden, assisted by Glenwood police officers, dragged the bear to a cage and said it would be put down, neighbors became upset, Dial said.
“It’s our fault,” she said of people who fail to secure their trash. “He was euthanized because he got a taste for trash. He didn’t get that up on the mountain.”
Mike Porras, spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, confirmed that the bear was destroyed under state policy because of its repeat encounters with people.
“When people don’t take care of their trash, they are sentencing these animals to death,” he said, adding that a bear is put down almost every day in Colorado — and it’s the worst part of a game officer’s job.
“It’s done to protect humans. It wouldn’t take much for that bear to cause a lot of damage,” he said, noting its size.
Porras said bears are entering their prehibernation hyperphagia stage and are “constantly foraging for food.” In hyperphagia, they need 20,000 calories a day — the equivalent, he said, of 70 cheeseburgers.
Because of late-spring freezes, the crop of service berries on which bears feed was poor, and now acorn and chokecherry crops appear to be spotty, said Will, the area wildlife manager.
That has made encounters with bears common from Aspen to Grand Junction. Officers in the Grand Junction area say this is among the worst years they’ve seen for bears foraging in human habitat.
In south Glenwood this month, a mother bear and two cubs were killed by a vehicle as they crossed Highway 82, and another bear broke into a garage in West Glenwood. A cub that had climbed into a tree Monday in south Glenwood was tranquilized and will be relocated. Bears have been spotted around Rifle the past couple of weeks, and upvalley, in Basalt and Aspen, several bear encounters have been reported.
Wildlife officials said bears can smell a meal 5 miles away, and people simply must secure trash, pet food and even bird feeders.
“In years like this,” Will said, “once a bear hits something like that [unsecured trash] and is rewarded, it just perpetuates itself.”
Parks and Wildlife moves bears that encroach on human turf at least 50 miles by policy, but “we don’t have a place to move them that has food,” Will said. That’s why some bears have been shipped to the southeastern part of the state.
Bear sightings in Rifle show that the animals are traveling long distances for food, Will said. “Rifle isn’t really bear habitat.”
Game warden Dan Cacho, who responded to the incident in downtown Glenwood on Saturday and to the bear in the tree Monday, urged residents to notify Parks and Wildlife if they see bears returning to a spot day after day.
“In this area, we have so many bears that bears walking by a spot one time is not a big deal, but if they develop a pattern, we want to know,” he said.
He also urged people not to get involved with wildlife, such as instances in which he’s heard of residents leaving trash out intentionally so they can take pictures of bears.
“Don’t let them lose their natural fear of people,” he said. “Once that happens, it’s a human safety issue.”
He added: “When people get involved with wildlife, wildlife usually comes out on the losing end.”