Vail bear reports increase sharply this year
VAIL — It’s been a busy year for bears around Colorado, and Vail is no exception, with many more bear reports than there were in 2018.
What’s going on?
There are a few possible explanations, both around Colorado and in Vail. At the top of the list is an increase in the state’s bear and human populations. The larger numbers of animals and humans in the same place means there will be more conflicts.
Mike Porras of Colorado Parks and Wildlife noted that there have been several reports of bears attacking humans this year, most notably in Aspen and Winter Park.
Bears have also been spotted in Colorado Springs, and a cub was recently spotted in Highlands Ranch, a busy suburb in the Denver area.
A number of people say bears rummaging through trash cans or bird feeders in neighborhoods is “just bears being bears.”
Porras said that’s wrong.
“Bears don’t belong in backyards,” Porras said. Easy access to food in human neighborhoods is unnatural. In fact, it can disrupt a bear’s natural tendencies.
It isn’t natural
Porras noted there were a couple of bears in Breckenridge that didn’t hibernate last winter. Those animals had easy access to food, and didn’t need to sleep through the cold months, he said.
“They know where to find an easy meal — that’s what we’re trying to discourage,” Porras said.
Bears are just looking for food. It’s up to humans to ensure the animals get their food the old-fashioned way: out in the woods. That’s something that needs almost universal buy-in.
Porras noted that just one homeowner with an unsecured trash container can create problems for an entire neighborhood.
Vail has had animal protection regulations on the books for several years now. But for some reason, there’s been a spike in bear reports — and warnings to homeowners — this year.
The Vail Police Department keeps track of those reports. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 21 of this year, there were 87 bear sightings in residential or public areas of town. For the same period in 2018, there were just 29 sightings.
Town dispatchers keep track of those calls, making occasionally hilarious notes in the process.
Aug. 14: “Bear seen ‘toppling a bear-proof container down the road.’ Looks like it wanted its food to go.”
Aug. 4: “Bear seen looking through dumpster near West Vail Mall. Just browsing, didn’t need help finding anything.”
Aug. 3: “’Bear in garage.’ Possible auto enthusiast?”
Aug. 2: “The ‘bear is back.’ Stone-cold sober as a matter of fact.”
July 27: “’Bear in driveway.’ Strange, I have a car in mine.”
Sharp rise in reports
Levity aside, the increase in bear sightings, combined with town code enforcement officers responding to calls, has resulted in a big increase in the number of warnings and citations issued so far this year.
For the period from Jan. 1 to Aug. 21, town code enforcement officers have issued 553 warnings and written nine citations. For the same period in 2018, there were 158 warnings and just one citation.
Vail Police Commander Craig Bettis said code enforcement officers haven’t really done anything different than they have in years past. The difference, he said, is that the town these days has more code enforcement people than it has had for a couple of years. And, he said, it seems like there are more bears in town.
“A lot has to do with bear behavior,” Bettis said.
Bettis added that the town’s intent is to change human behavior, with warnings as a first step. Citations are usually issued to repeat offenders.
“Our goal is if we correct the behavior, the result is good.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
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