Grand County bear activity ramps up | SkyHiNews.com

Grand County bear activity ramps up

Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

It's the time of year when bears can cause mischief around local homes, such as this bear did in 2008 in Winter Park.

Though certainly an egregious crime, a home invasion is not an offense punishable by death.

Not, that is, unless you're a bear.

Department of Parks and Wildlife officials this week have been trying to trap a bear that entered a Winter Park home through an open garage door before ransacking the kitchen trash can.

Though the details of the case are somewhat extraordinary, bear encounters have picked up in recent weeks, including an instance where a black bear casually entered a Grand Lake business.

District Wildlife Officer Jeromy Huntington said the number of encounters between bears and humans increases around this time of year, when bears are looking for heartier food sources to pack on the pounds before hibernation. And humans often inadvertently offer an all-you-can-eat buffet for hungry bruins.

For a bear, it's like deciding whether to cook dinner or eat out, though the bear isn't as interested in McDonald's as it is the dumpster behind McDonald's, and the dinner choice could mean life or death.

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"They can get a lot more calories in a shorter amount of time from the food that humans provide or have available in the area than what they can get by scavenging and actually searching for it in the wild," Huntington said.

For humans, an encounter with a bear is often an exhilarating, though rarely fatal experience. But for the bear, the result is quite often the opposite

The Department of Parks and Wildlife has a number of criteria to meet before it can euthanize a bear. Unfortunately for the aforementioned offender, entering an occupied home is one of those criteria.

The other fatal offense for a bear is aggressiveness toward humans, though Huntington said behavior that is normal for a hungry bear, like strewing garbage across the lawn, is often misconstrued as aggressive.

"That's not an aggressive bear," Huntington said. "That's a bear trying to get into your food."

The Department of Parks and Wildlife also has a "two strikes" rule for problem bears, meaning bears cause significant property damage or are in a bad location are relocated and given a second chance, Huntington said. The bears are tagged, though, so a second offense often means euthanizing the bear.

Unfortunately, bears are only doing what bears do. It's in a bear's nature to seek easy calories, and it seems to be human nature to ignore all of the precautions that make that possible.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to save a bear's life.

Be bear aware

Trash is the primary source of problems between bears and humans. In Winter Park, the town has an ordinance requiring businesses to use bear-proof trash container, said Police Chief Glen Trainor.

Around this time is when the town tends see bear activity pick up, he said.

"We've had just a couple here," Trainor said. "None too bad, but you drive through town and see the dumpsters messed with."

For that reason, Huntington recommends that people living in areas with lots of bear activity make sure all of their trash is secure.

"It can be challenging to keep bears out of trash, and dumpsters that have plastic lids are relatively easy for bears to get into," Huntington said.

The Trash Company in Granby offers both bear-resistant dumpsters and carts.

Of course, bear-proof dumpsters must be latched in order for the system to be effective.

"You can even have a really good bear resistant dumpster, and all it takes is for someone to leave it open, and it defeats the purpose," Huntington said.

Securing the trash inside the home is also important, as demonstrated by the Winter Park incident. Leaving doors open or windows cracked can tempt a hungry bear.

For more information on being bear aware, visit http://cpw.state.co.us and click on the "Keep Bears Wild" tab.

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

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