Road to bruin: Factors ease bear incidents
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. ” Bad-news bears have been on the decline in the Glenwood Springs area in recent years, and a combination of factors are getting the credit.
Much goes to Mother Nature for providing a couple of seasons of good crops of berries and other natural bear food, said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
But other factors include a city ordinance passed two years ago to get trash and other bear attractants under control, and a more aggressive attitude by the DOW in dealing with problem bears.
There’s no controlling the weather, which dictates the annual crops of natural bear food. But the other factors become critical during seasons when growth of berries and other such foods decline and bears are more tempted to head to town, Hampton said.
That had begun to create problems in towns such as Glenwood Springs that already sit in prime natural bear habitat. Bear encounters became so frequent that people such as Glenwood resident Ron Madsen began to criticize the DOW, saying it wasn’t dealing proactively enough with problem bears that could pose a danger to residents.
Over the years, the agency has focused on educating people about what they can do to secure garbage and otherwise eliminate bear temptations around their homes. It also has hesitated to take drastic steps such as relocating bears, in part because of the chance that they again will cause problems, requiring them to be killed under the agency’s two-strike rule for bears.
However, in 2005 the DOW decided to try a pilot program in Glenwood that includes removing them from designated safety zones including downtown and schools, and from neighborhoods where they continue to cause problems. Bears also are hazed by police and DOW officers using rubber buck shot and pepper spray, in an attempt to drive them from town.
The policy also called for DOW officers to give homeowners with bear problems a list of attractants that need to be cleaned up, and to cite them if they don’t comply and a bear returns.
Glenwood Springs City Council also targeted the human part of the problem, prohibiting trash from being left out overnight unless it’s in a bear-resistant container. It also banned leaving out pet foods and wildlife attractants, and required bird feeders to be suspended from cables or other devices during bear season.
Madsen said it’s hard to know just how effective the new policies have been until there’s another year of scarce natural bear food, but he appreciates the DOW’s change in direction.
“If they would continue to contact the people and go to the calls as they come up and handle the calls instead of just hoping the thing goes away, I think that’s a much better policy,” he said.
Glenwood police chief Terry Wilson suspects the new DOW policy and city ordinance have helped, although they were implemented in a year when the berry crop improved, and have yet to be tested during a summer with a bad berry crop.
“It’s hard to say what made it better because all those things kind of kicked in at the same time, more or less,” he said.
Wilson doesn’t recall his officers ever having to cite anyone under the new city ordinance, but he said it has helped educate the public about how to reduce the bear problem.
He said people also seem more reluctant to call police about routine bear sightings, out of fear of getting the bears into undue trouble.
“A couple of years ago, I mean literally every time someone saw a bear anywhere in the area, we got a call,” he said.
DOW district wildlife manager Sonia Marzec said the DOW took 17 bear calls in the Glenwood area this year, but a lot involved multiple reports on single days about a bear in a certain area.
Meanwhile, in Glenwood, Aspen and Snowmass Village, a Colorado State University research team has been continuing to fit bears with collars that use global positioning systems to track their locations. This has helped the DOW learn more about their movements, including after they have been hazed from town or relocated.
The study is scheduled to continue for a few more years.
“Our (bear) knowledge is good but this study is really upping that knowledge,” Hampton said. “I think we’re extremely optimistic about what we’ve seen so far. We’re hopeful the study continues to provide some information.”
Glenwood’s bears should be pretty much in hibernation now, and that’s just fine with Wilson.
“I just wish them a happy, long sleep. It should be just closing in on nap time and I think that’s a great time for bears,” he said.
Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119
Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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