Living in bear country

Ross Leonhart
Vail Daily
The adage that garbage kills wildlife can be misleading. It's not so much the content of the garbage that hurts the bear as the fact that it's losing its natural fear of humans. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife's priority is protecting human safety and practices a two-strike policy on bears before putting them down.
Marc Mandelbaum | Special to the

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The Colorado Parks & Wildlife website has more information about black bears at

EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado’s black bears are ending their winter dormancy, and wildlife officials are encouraging people to learn to live with their summer neighbors.

“We’re very early in the season,” said Mike Porras, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer. “Bears are just starting to come out — some are already out — and it won’t be long, based on previous history, before we anticipate that we will get reports of bears getting into trash, bears getting into bird feeders, interacting with hikers (and) possibly campers, and so on.”

When dealing with bears, or any wildlife for that matter, wildlife officials have the same recommendations: Don’t feed. Don’t approach. Don’t harass.

The main priority for Colorado Parks and Wildlife is human safety, and when bears lose their natural fear of humans, then they become a threat.

“All it takes is one good swipe from a bear to cause some serious injury.”Mike PorrasColarado Parks & Wildlife

“It all boils down to trash,” Porras said. “Whether you’re camping, hiking or living in a neighborhood, secure your food sources, avoid attracting all wildlife and learn to coexist with wildlife in Colorado.”

Porras said wildlife officers spend most of their summer responding to bear calls, some of them unnecessary.

If a bear walks through your yard and continues on its way, then that is considered a watchable wildlife experience, and that’s one of the beauties of living in Eagle County.

However, if a bear returns or is digging through trash or shows no fear of humans, then that’s a problem, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife should be notified.

Wildlife officials have a two-strike policy when relocating bears. If a bear is in a residential area showing no fear of people, then officials will attempt to relocate it once and tag it. If the bear continues the behavior and presents a danger to human safety, officials will then put it down.

In one instance, Porras said, wildlife officers transported a bear more than 100 miles away from the residential area it was in. By the time the officer returned to the residential area that evening, the same bear was already there and had to be put down.

“When you allow any wildlife to access food and it continues to come back and they become a threat to human safety, you’re sentencing those bears to death, and our wildlife officers are the ones who have to carry out the sentence,” Porras said. ”It’s the absolute worst part of a wildlife officer’s job. But we’ll perform our duties to protect the public.”

Bears are sharing the land with a growing human population across the state, which makes relocating them a difficult task.

Black bears are typically shy and avoid people unless they find an easy source of food. They do have sharp claws and teeth, and accidentally stumbling upon one, or even cornering one, can be very dangerous.

“All it takes is one good swipe from a bear to cause some serious injury,” Porras said.

BLACK BEAR Encounters

In 2010, a 25-year-old construction worker was attacked by a black bear when he went for a walk outside of the property on break. He said he spooked the bear, which was about 20 feet from him and weighed about 400 pounds. The bear knocked him unconscious, and when the man awoke, it was gone. He walked away with some cuts, bruises and a nasty black eye.

In 2012, a black bear wandered into the elegant dining room of Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail without a reservation. The bartender that evening said he thought at first glance it was a giant dog, and it was eventually scared off. Staff suspected the bear was drawn to trash from the residential side of the building.

“That’s the sign of a bear that lost the fear of people,” Porras said, “and it’s not only a danger to the people, but a bear in a situation like that faces being put down.”


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