New Castle to host series of meetings addressing bear safety |

New Castle to host series of meetings addressing bear safety

A sow and her cubs walk through a yard in New Castle in August 2022.
Courtesy/Jamin Heady-Smith

If there’s anything recent times have taught us is that Garfield County’s apex predators really like taking dips — or, at the very least, they like eating hot-tub covers.

There were in fact multiple bear encounters in New Castle in 2022.

One resident was lacerated on her arm by a sow who tried opening a hot-tub lid in her yard. The sow and one of her cubs were later euthanized. The remaining two cubs were taken to the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt for rehabilitation.

Another resident in early fall escaped being badly mauled after a bear knocked him down in his backyard. He used his free hand to grab a gun and fire off rounds to scare it off.

The dicy bear encounters now have New Castle leaders and officials eager to educate their nearly 5,000 residents on these sorts of brushes with nature. 

New Castle is specifically slated to host a series of meetings in March and April aimed at bolstering bear safety and close-encounter prevention. The programs, called Community Conversations: Living with Bears, take place between 6-7:30 p.m. on March 1, March 22 and April 19 at the New Castle Community Center, 423 W. Main St.

New Castle City Council member and program organizer Caitlin Carey referred to last year’s bear encounters as “traumatic.”

“I just felt like it was prime time to have a conversation about what it means to be living in a community in and around their habitat,” she said. “Especially as we look at changing climate.”

Throughout this time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Colorado black bears were lacking food sources in higher elevations — such as the Flat Tops north of Rifle, Silt and New Castle — causing them to descend into towns in search of more food.

Following these encounters, town officials met to discuss bear safety with people like Roaring Fork Bear Coalition Founder Daniela Kohl, Colorado Bear Coalition Founder and President Brenda Lee, CPW Area Manager Kirk Oldham — and even a trauma researcher, Dr. Edward Mooney, Jr.

A black bear sow and her cubs up in a tree in New Castle in August 2022.
Courtesy/Caroline Mooney

Carey said this created a vision of how the city can educate and prepare for more bears this spring and summer after they awake from hibernation.

“There was a lot of trauma in hearing the gunshots and knowing what happened in people’s backyards,” she said. “The schools were secured until the bears were taken out of a tree because it was right next to the middle school later that day.” 

Mooney is in a particularly unique position. He researched trauma psychology and school culture at Northeastern University of Boston, was once shot at while serving as a high-school teacher, and is currently a New Castle resident.

He said he personally came across the sow and her cubs perched in a tree at Adler Park while walking his dog with his wife, Caroline. As she looked up, she grew especially connected with the bears because she herself is a mother.

“We connect,” Mooney said. “We see something in them that reminds us of ourselves.” 

There are three steps that could happen after bears get too comfortable within town settings, according to the Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition. One, hazing is deployed to cause physical discomfort to discourage bears from entering dumpsters, homes, cars and more. Two is relocation, when tranquilizing and moving bears to new habitat happens in the hopes they will not return. Three is euthanizing — CPW data shows it putting down an average of 110 bears annually over the past seven years.

“We’re also reminded of death,” Mooney, speaking of potential ensuing trauma caused by bear interactions, said. “It’s something none of us want to confront, really.”

“When we heard what happened, we had a lot of post traumatic symptoms — difficulty sleeping, hard to focus,” he said of the bears being put down. “Talking to a lot of people in our community here, I found out I was not alone.”

Carey said one major proposal the city could put forth this year is potentially implementing a trash ordinance, which will be addressed during one of the upcoming prevention meetings. This could mean residents solely having the day refuse collections occur to put out their trash and not leaving it out overnight or days in advance.

“I’ve asked them to address that,” she said. “Because what people have a tendency to think is that if we are going to have a trash ordinance or a bear or a wildlife ordinance, that we are coming after them, and we’re going to expect to bend over backwards in order to save the bears,” she said. “That’s not what it is.”

She said the meetings next month and in April are going to be open for discussion and will have more of a conversational feel. Anyone with questions can ask them during the meetings. Carey, however, also requests that people with questions email her at a week in advance of the meeting they want to attend.

“I don’t want there to be any artificial barriers in this conversation,” she said. “This is something people are emotionally invested in.”

Each meeting covers varying aspects in bear safety:

  • Wednesday, March 1: Education

“Join us for conversation about what makes bears tick, what they are interested in, and how bears go about their lives. Did you know black bears like toothpaste?”

  • Wednesday, March 22: Prevention

“Join us for a conversation surrounding what we can do to deter bears from coming too close, and to keep ourselves, our pets, and the bears safe.”

  • Wednesday, April 19: Encounters

“Join us for a conversation about what to do when you meet a bear! Hint: They don’t want to shake your hand!” 

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