4 habituated bears euthanized this summer in Northwest Colorado

Suzie Romig
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Two bear cubs were located Aug. 27 by Colorado Parks and Wildfire, months after they ran off when their mother attacked a Steamboat Springs man in May. (Courtesy photo)

Out of the 18 Colorado Parks and Wildfire service areas across the state, the district that includes Routt and Jackson counties lands in the middle of the pack at ninth in the volume of black bear incidents.

Yet Northwest Colorado currently remains at the top of the four CPW regions in bear incidents due to the continued extreme drought conditions, which have improved in other areas of the state. CPW officials say the lack of monsoonal rains continues to impair natural crop production, and that, combined with irresponsible human behavior, has led to ample local bear incidents, including a human injury in late May and bears seen in populated parts of Steamboat Springs throughout the summer.

“With the drought conditions, such as in the last two years, we do see bears being more mobile. They are having to find alternative food sources, more in urban or town areas or finding livestock, such as sheep,” said Brad Banulis, CPW senior terrestrial biologist for Northwest Colorado.

Banulis said the past 10 to 20 years have seen continued people and bruin conflicts in Colorado, as both the human and bear populations grew and more people moved into rural bear habitat. Drought and frost issues also created more variability in natural forage.

Local bears are entering hyperphagia now, where the bruins’ appetites go into hyperdrive to consume as many calories as possible to put on life-sustaining fat before hibernating for the winter. The greatest calorie needs for local bears usually comes in September and October, but the biologist said hyperphagia could last somewhat longer into early November this year. He is putting some hope in the oak brush acorn crop this fall for forage.

So far this year, CPW had to euthanize four bears in Area 10, which contains most of Routt and Jackson counties, and a fifth bear was discovered ill in a pasture July 15 and euthanized, said Travis Duncan, a CPW public information officer. Another bear was struck and killed by a motor vehicle July 12 on U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance to the Steamboat Springs KOA campground.

In Area 10 in the previous two years, three bears were euthanized and two relocated in 2019, and five bears were euthanized and three relocated in 2020, Duncan said. He explained the circumstances for the four bears euthanized locally so far this year.

• On May 21, a food-habituated bear that had lost its fear of people attempted to break in while a family was having dinner and could not be hazed away from the property.

• Late in the evening May 30, a bear with two cubs entered an open garage door where bird seed was stored in the Whitewood neighborhood, and a homeowner entering the garage was attacked. The bear had lost its fear of people.

• On June 11, a bear that gained entry to a home accessed food in the kitchen and lost its fear of people.

• On July 30, a bear entered a residence through an open window, then entered a chicken coop, killing multiple chickens before aggressively charging a homeowner.

Area Wildlife Manager Kris Middledorf in Steamboat Springs continues to emphasize that local residents and visitors need to “remain super vigilant” to reduce wildlife attractants, especially securing trash cans and dumpsters as “bears are still very active in and around Steamboat.”

“Research shows that bears prefer natural sources of food. But they will find sources of human-provided food if it’s available, which can become dangerous to humans,” Banulis said. “Preventing bears from relying on human food sources takes a community effort, and it’s important that we all take proactive steps to avoid any possible conflicts with bears and bearproof our homes.”

Duncan said of the more than 215 bear incident calls in Area 10 through mid-August, most were related to bear sightings, but 58 calls were related to food sources or property damage, seven for aggressive behavior and one for the attack in May.

Across the state, the top regions for bear incidents include Pitkin County, followed by the areas of Colorado Springs, Boulder and Estes Park, and Durango, said Jason Clay, a CPW public information officer.

Banulis said the local CPW area is currently managed as a stable district for the bear population.

“We’re trying to manage a bear population as a total across a landscape, but bears are adapting very well to human food sources,” Banulis noted. “When people move into bear habitat, they need to understand they have to be responsible and to expect bears will be there at times. So people have to be more vigilant in managing food sources. We (humans) are playing a role in effecting the carrying capacity of the landscape.”

CPW estimates the current population of black bears in Colorado at 17,000 to 20,000, but the predator population is a struggle to estimate because they are not easy to detect and identify individually and don’t live in groups, Banulis said.

With bear hunting season starting Sept. 2, Banulis said the local area harvest success rate, or the percentage of bears killed by hunters versus licenses issued, remained low at 3% last year. He said 93 bears were harvested in 2020 out of 2,942 total limited and unlimited bear hunting licenses sold for the local area last year.

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