Bears, energy workers clash |

Bears, energy workers clash

Dale Shrull
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The natural gas industry and Colorado Division of Wildlife are learning that bear-human clashes aren’t just reserved for towns and neighborhoods.

DOW officials say this summer bears are finding new sources of human food among the thousands of energy industry employees who work and, in some cases, live in prime bear habitat.

“Trash storage and trash disposal at man camps is the biggest issue right now,” said J.T. Romatzke, DOW district wildlife manager for the Parachute area. “Bear-proof trash containers should be provided by the companies for these facilities. Standard trash Dumpsters or trash cans are not sufficient in this environment.”

Doug Hock, spokesman for EnCana USA, says they are working to get a handle on the problem.

“We’re installing bear-proof Dumpsters at every rig,” he said.

The main goal is to eliminate the temptation for the bears, he added. Hock estimated that there’s around 150 employees working on eight rigs in the Parachute area.

Each rig has its own housing nearby.

DOW officials are concerned of the workers’ impact on bear habitat.

“In the past three weeks, I’ve taken more than 40 phone calls from energy workers who want us to ‘do something’ about the bears,” Romatzke added. “Without cooperation on the trash, grease and food storage issues, we can’t help in these situations.”

Susan Alvillar, spokeswoman for Williams, another gas production company, said they are also taking steps to try and eliminate human contact with bears.

“We had two bears take up residence near an office facility (up Parachute Creek) that was near an apple orchard,” she said.

The bears were eating the apples. Alvillar said they first sent out crews to pick all the apples, then they put up an electric fence around the orchard. She said they also sent out e-mails to all employees on the do’s and don’ts of dealing with bears.

Alvillar said they don’t have bear-proof containers right now, and called their containers sturdy. “We have them on our radar screen to make sure they are tied down,” she added.

It’s been a case of humans moving into the bears’ neighborhood.

“We’ve had some requests for us to trap and relocate bears out of these sites,” said Dean Riggs, DOW area supervisor for the Grand Junction area. “But, unlike bears that venture into town and become a nuisance, this is a situation where man has come right into the heart of the bears’ habitat and we aren’t willing to start punishing the bears for that.”

The DOW has received reports of energy workers intentionally feeding bears. Officers have even seen pictures of energy workers posing for pictures with bears.

Alvillar said that they want to be good neighbors to the bears.

“We not only want to educate (workers) but warn them as well. We definitely don’t want to get the bears in trouble,” she said.

Hock said they hold regular safety meetings where they address bear issues with workers.

DOW officers have conducted bear education programs for workers.

“The reception has been really positive with the programs so far,” said Elissa Knox, DOW district wildlife manager for the DeBeque district

Colorado has a two-strike bear policy that allows wildlife managers to relocate bears because of nuisance incidents. If the bear returns to getting into trash or coming into contact with people, the policy requires that the bear be killed. Bears that are deemed dangerous or show undue aggression toward people may be put down by officers, regardless of whether the bear has been previously relocated.

DOW Assistant Regional Manager Steve Yamashita says “Regardless of the bear policy, the first step to addressing human-bear conflict is always education. We want to help people understand that they must take responsibility for keeping wild bears wild.”