Carbondale bear activity highest in years
Though it’s not known as a bear hot spot like Aspen or Glenwood Springs, Carbondale’s bear activity this year is the highest wildlife managers have seen in more than a decade.
Wildlife managers in the Roaring Fork Valley have called for residents to secure their garbage pretty much since the bears woke up this year. Trash strewn in Glenwood alleys, the telltale sign of bears visiting in the night, has still been a common sight. Many Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have spent their nights chasing the animals through town.
When bears become more aggressive and break into houses, wildlife officers must take steps like putting the animals down. “We’re here to help the town in anyway we can, but we need help,” John Groves, Carbondale district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told Carbondale trustees.
Wildlife managers in Glenwood have put down at least five bears this year. And a cub in Carbondale was reportedly electrocuted earlier this month.
“In the last 13 or 14 years I’ve been here, this is some of the highest activity we’ve seen in (Carbondale),” Groves said. “Most years it’s only one or two bears in town per season, but this year I know of at least a dozen bears.”
Part of what’s driving bears to seek food in the towns is scarcity of their natural food, like acorns and serviceberry, in the wild. Dan Cacho, CPW game warden, has also been concerned that this unnatural food supply could keep the bear population artificially high. Cacho said the prevalence of human food sources for bears could trick their hormones into allowing female bears to produce more cubs. Natural food scarcity should trigger a sow to have fewer cubs.
And Groves predicts Carbondale’s bear problem is going to get worse this year before it gets better, as the animals go into a state of hyperphagia, going on a feeding spree to prepare for hibernation. Bears typically go into hibernation from late October to mid-November.
The Carbondale wildlife manager was also not optimistic about relocating problem bears. “If I was to drug you and haul you 100 miles away and dump you in the woods, you’re going to make a beeline back to your home, and that’s what they do,” he told trustees. “Trapping and moving bears doesn’t work.” After relocating a bear, it’s often only a month or two before that bear is back and in trouble. So the only sure solution is cutting their access to human-source foods before the bears can get to them.
But the problem may not only be unsecured garbage. Bears are also attracted to fruit trees, compost piles and chickens. Chickens are probably one of the biggest attractants of predators, said Groves. “Everyone’s got chickens in their backyard and a compost pile, which is great, but then a bear-proof container doesn’t really do much good,” said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk. Groves told Carbondale trustees that there’s a real possibility that the bears will simply move on to one of these other sources if they lose access to residential trash.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said residential trash is more of an open source to food than commercial dumpsters.
The town has distributed 600 notices in neighborhoods prone to bear issues and 80 warnings for those found with unsecured trash. Those warnings are tracked, so if there’s another violation, they get a ticket.
Trustee Frosty Merriott, however, had less patience with people who still haven’t got the message about guarding their garbage. “I think we should issue 80 tickets and not 80 warnings. If we don’t, we’re being irresponsible,” he said.
Town staff also said there are few bear-proof containers for sale in the area.
The town itself isn’t using bear-proof cans exclusively. Carbondale has made the switch in Stairway Park and Miner’s Memorial Park, but the town is years away from replacing all of its trash cans, said Town Manager Jay Harrington. Trustees also plan to look at working bear-proof containers into the parks and recreation budget for 2018.
Carbondale’s bear ordinance does require that trash be secured or be in a bear-resistant container, but there is no requirement that the trash hauler provide those containers. The ordinance is also generous toward those who get fined for a bear getting into their unsecured garbage. The town will refund that fine if you show afterward you purchased a bear-proof container.
Given that bear season is getting late, and availability of bear-proof containers is scant, some trustees were hesitant to immediately change the bear ordinance to require all trash cans be those types of containers.
Trustees are expected to take up the bear ordinance again soon.
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Cleaning up isn’t cheap — that much is clear following estimates it would take $200,000 to clean up all of the roughly 80 homeless encampments in Glenwood Springs.