Bear sightings beginning in Grand County
March 30, 2017
Every year as the snow melts away in the High Country most people's thoughts turn to summer.
Summer days in Grand County are long and warm, with an ethereal twilight that takes on a dream-like feel and seemingly calls you to wander the trails and woods of Middle Park. It is important to remember, though, that humans are not the only creatures who take a cue from the rising temperatures to head for the hills.
The black bears of Grand County are now beginning to emerge from their winter dens and shelters and officials from Colorado Parks and Wildlife are reminding local citizens of what they need to do to prevent conflicts, and protect the wild creatures who are sometimes harmed by the carelessness of humans.
Jeromy Huntington is the district wildlife officer for the eastern portion of Grand County. According to Huntington, Grand County is beginning to get its first reports of black bear sightings this year. Huntington said most of the reports received so far have been centralized around the Grand Lake area.
Huntington spends much of his time working to educate locals and tourists alike on what they can do to prevent problems with bears. Most of the advice centers on making sure no food sources are available for the bears, which can entice them to go places they otherwise would avoid.
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"The best thing for keeping bears safe and keeping people safe is not to provide attractants that bring them to our towns and communities in the first place," Huntington said. "By not providing attractants the bear is less likely to become habituated to people and lose its fear of people. Ultimately, when they lose their fear of people it is because they look at people as providing food."
It is an issue he takes very seriously. Not only is he often the person called when a human-bear conflict occurs, but because of existing Parks and Wildlife policy requirements, he sometimes has to euthanize bears, depending on circumstances. More than a few of those instances requiring euthanizing of bears could be avoided, though, if citizens took the proper precautions regarding food sources, including securing trash cans so bears can't get at the refuse.
"Some people will look at a bear getting into the trash as not a big deal," Huntington said. "But that is the first step with bears associating humans with food sources."
To highlight the importance of keeping food and trash locked up, and thereby preventing bears from ever viewing people or trash cans as food sources, Huntington highlighted Rocky Mountain National Park.
"My understanding is they typically don't have too many conflicts with bears," he said. "A part of that is all their dumpsters and campground areas are all locked up."
Parks and Wildlife employs a two-strike policy for bears in most circumstances. Any time CPW staff has to handle or move a bear, it receives an ear tag. Such incidents are considered "first strikes" for bears. If bears return and wildlife officers must handle the animals a second time, CPW policy requires the officers to put the animal down. Officers are also required to euthanize bears if they get into occupied dwellings, including tents, kill livestock or harm or show aggressive behavior towards people.
Huntington pointed out that in the three years he has worked as district wildlife officer in the area, he has not moved any bears, but has had to euthanize bears that got into homes or other dwellings. In the fall of 2015, a camper shot and killed a bear cub in the Vasquez Creek area. The cub was attempting to gain access to food stored in a plastic tub and left sitting outside.
At the time, Huntington highlighted what was, and continues to be, an ongoing problem regarding food and trash items left by campers in the Vasquez Creek area.
While many who call the High Country home enjoy hunting, including bears, it is a rare individual who would not feel remorse if a bear was euthanized because of their carelessness. To that end, Parks and Wildlife has several suggestions citizens can employ.
First and foremost, if you live in bear country, secure your trash can. Whether that means locking it up, putting it inside your garage, or keeping food refuse separate from other trash until trash day; throughout the spring, summer and fall citizens of the high country need to be cognizant of what is in their garbage and whether or not a bear can access it.
Second, secure bird feeders in areas that bears, and other wildlife like deer or elk, cannot access and consider taking the feeders inside at night.
Third, if you are going camping in Grand County, or anywhere in bear country for that matter, don't leave any food out overnight and don't take any food into your tent.
If you have livestock consider ways you can keep bears out of your rangeland. Parks and Wildlife suggests electric fences of the kind used to keep cattle in can also be effective at keeping bears out. Huntington pointed out the spring is a popular time for folks to purchase baby chickens and that the chicks need to be secured in a safe place bears cannot access. Baby chicks are livestock and as such if bears kill and eat someone's backyard brood the bear must be euthanized per State policy.
"The biggest thing is just to be aware," said Huntington.