Hungry, hungry bears descend on Rifle |

Hungry, hungry bears descend on Rifle

A bear climbs through a fence in the 700 block of Ute Avenue in Rifle on Aug. 17.
Submitted/Alan Lambert

One ursine forager recently scampered through a fence into a residential backyard. A Rifle police officer filmed another trying to enter a building downtown. A couple more are suspected of living at the cemetery.

There are about 12,000 black bears in Colorado, and it seems as though plenty of them now seek food sources within Rifle city limits.

Numbers provided by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife reveal, between Jan. 1 and Aug. 17, at least 26 confirmed bear sightings in the Rifle area. There were 48 confirmed sightings over the same time frame in 2021, but many of those reports came from Silt and New Castle.

Even though they call themselves The Bears, the Garfield Re-2 district is asking Rifle High School students not to use nearby trails to walk to and from school.

This year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Rifle Police Department say a late spring freeze reduced food sources — chokecherries, berries and honey — at higher elevations. Foods commonly found in the nearby Flat Tops or Book Cliffs aren’t as prevalent as they normally would be.

“There’s bears all over the place,” Rifle Code Enforcement Officer Alan Lambert said. “We figure there’s at least four different bears around town. A sow with two cubs and possibly two yearlings.”

“We’ve had sightings around Wendy’s, we’ve had sightings around Centennial Park, we’ve had sightings around Prefontaine Avenue.”

Rifle, flush with apple trees, gardens and dumpsters, is feeding this influx of Colorado black bears currently trying to put on as much fat as they can before winter. To be exact, bears are typically consuming 20,000 calories per day before their hibernation cycles kick in sometime between late October and early November.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer Rachel Gonzales said bears are likely spending 20 hours per day trying to accomplish this fattening feat.

“Oddly, they like to eat hot tub covers,” she said.

Lambert said Rifle experienced similar bear visitation numbers about four to five years ago, and these sightings typically lead to swift calls to either the Rifle Police Department or CPW.

There’s not much they can do, however, unless there’s imminent danger. Lambert said if a bear becomes too ubiquitous and a problem in a certain area, the CPW can come in and relocate it. 

Black bears are wild animals that are nonaggressive by nature, and usually go away if left alone, Rifle Police Chief Deb Funston said. But the city itself has taken its own precautions. Funston said they’ve posted more bear caution signs, while a trail leading to Rifle High School was temporarily closed down.

“Obviously, we don’t want students walking in the area of a bear,” she said.

Funston said best practice is to ensure trash is sealed and put away, and don’t feed the bears. Bears can even get into barbecue pits and feed on the carbon caked onto interior grill grates and walls.

Meanwhile, Gonzales said if a bear ever gets too close for comfort, yell loud things. Many times the bear becomes annoyed in response, then leaves.

“We live in bear country,” she said. “These steps help keep them living longer.”

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