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DOW: bears emerging early

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – The mild weather over the first half of March is starting to coax drowsy bears out of hibernation. Wildlife officials want to make sure the bruins aren’t drawn to trash containers in Roaring Fork Valley towns.

Kevin Wright, a longtime officer in the Aspen area for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, urged residents to get back into their bear-friendly habits now rather than waiting until later in the season, when bears typically emerge. Bears usually stir in April, he said, but this year one yearling was spotted by a property manager along East Owl Creek Road on Monday and a bear was hit and killed by a vehicle recently in the Eagle Valley, Wright said.

“It’s early. I want to get people starting to think,” Wright said. That includes keeping trash containers secured, putting away bird feeders, cleaning barbecues, keeping windows latched and lever handles of doors locked.

Once bears emerge, they are in a phase called walking hibernation where their digestive systems get fired up after going months without eating anything or excreting much waste. “They usually walk around like they’re in a stupor,” Wright said.

That changes after a couple of weeks, then they get hungry. Grasses and forbs comprise most of their diet in the spring and early summer. Berry crops and acorns sustain them later on.

Wright noted that hibernation patterns could remain normal if a storm materializes and temperatures cool down. If not, he expects more bears to emerge from lower-elevation dens while those in dens higher up will remain in hibernation.

Last year was about as good as it gets for minimizing bear conflicts with humans, according to Wright. The major factor was a good natural food supply. Ample moisture and no late freeze produced bumper crops of berries around the Roaring Fork Valley.

The wildlife division euthanized two bears in 2010 compared to 20 the prior year in Pitkin County. The number of relocated bruins dropped to one from 33 the prior year. Calls to the Aspen Police Department for bears breaking into homes or rummaging through trash plummeted in 2010.

Aspen started requiring bear-resistant garbage containers last year. The police department also increased awareness with educational “knock and talks” with homeowners or business owners who weren’t taking adequate precautions. Volunteers also worked with the wildlife division on Bear Aware teams to educate Aspen residents and visitors on ways to avoid problems with bears.

Wright said deer and elk have also benefited from “mild” weather this winter. There hasn’t been much snow in lower elevations so deer and elk were able to stay higher in the mountains. That is a factor in what appears to be a reduced number of road kill, he said. A wildlife fence erected on Highway 82 east of Carbondale and for a long swath between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs also reduced the number of deer and elk getting hit by vehicles, Wright said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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