Be bear aware in Mesa County
Colorado bear encounters are up this summer, including a spate of sightings in Mesa County where black bear interactions aren’t as typical.
“Bear activity within the area has been significant,” said Mike Porras, who works as the public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region. “Lack of natural food is possibly one of the reasons, due to the late frost. There’s still food out there, but bears are traveling further to find it.”
According to Porras, Colorado Parks and Wildlife euthanized 12 black bears around western Colorado last month, including a “nuisance” black bear in Fruita and two in Aspen.
A bear was also shot and killed in Breckenridge last month by a police officer “after the bear was reported to be scavenging through trash outside a home,” a Summit Daily News story reported.
Nuisance bears refer to animals who recognize human-generated trash as an easy food source and enter residential neighborhoods repeatedly, creating a human threat.
“It’s one of the worst times of any wildlife officer’s job,” Porras said of animal euthanization. “We don’t like to do that, though we will act to protect human health and safety.”
Porras cites human negligence regarding trash as the primary reason many bears are put down in Colorado.
“When humans let trash be available to bears, or feed them on purpose, a bear is rewarded by an easy meal and will continue to return,” he explained. “Bears have excellent memories and a powerful sense of smell.”
Other bear attractants include dirty barbecue grills, dog food left outside, and even bird feeders. Trash issues in residential neighborhoods may also result in bears breaking into homes to raid kitchens and pantries.
“If people feed bears, they’re sentencing them to death,” Porras said. “If people allow bears to get into garbage, they’re sentencing them to death. A bear is just trying to survive. Typically reclusive, bears don’t want to be around people.”
To limit wildlife access to trash (not just bears), Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends keeping all trash secured until the day of pickup and not to put it out the night before.
“By mid-December bears will be in their dens,” Porras said. “Up until then they’ll be eating machines.”
Dahna Raugh, City of Fruita’s community development director, noted that Fruita doesn’t have any specific rules for bear-resistant trash containers as many western Colorado towns follow.
“We don’t typically have bear problems, but the few times a bear has been in Fruita, they are usually along the washes (like the recent unfortunate bear),” Raugh wrote in an email. “I know Fruita worked to let people in the area know about the bear and asked people to be careful, watchful and to secure the trash and other things attractive to bears while the bear was still out there.”
Grand Junction regulations do not specify for bear-safe trash receptacles either.
“Since our trash pickup service is just provided primarily in the city core, our staff doesn’t really encounter problems with bears,” City of Grand Junction spokeswoman Sam Rainguet said, also in an email.
Even so, vigilance in securing trash and other attractive food sources is suggested by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in areas of Mesa County where black bears aren’t typical.
“Do what you can and remind your neighbors,” Porras said. “If you love wildlife, the best thing to do is keep them wild. Do not feed them.”
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