‘A human problem’: Colorado Parks and Wildlife euthanized 2 bears in 2 weeks
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have euthanized two bears in Steamboat Springs in the last two weeks.
According to a news release from CPW, a bear entered a home just east of U.S. Highway 40 through an open garage Sept. 7 and trapped the residents inside. When CPW officials responded to the incident, the bear showed aggressive behavior and could not be hazed from the house after 45 minutes.
In the second incident, CPW officials were called to a report of a bear that entered a home on the east side of Steamboat through an unlocked sliding glass door around noon Sept. 14, according to a CPW news release.
The homeowner told wildlife officers the same bear had ripped out the front screen of the house the previous day and had gotten into another home in the neighborhood.
Kris Middledorf, CPW area wildlife manager, said he believes this bear had become habituated to human food rather than the nuts, berries and grasses bears normally eat in the wild, so officers set a bear trap at the location.
“A 200-pound bear in hyperphagia that has no fear of entering a home in search of food is a dangerous bear that poses an imminent threat to humans,” Middledorf said. “Luckily, this bear hadn’t entered an occupied home yet. A wild bear in a confined space with humans would be very dangerous for the homeowners. Unfortunately, we’ve had several similar situations in Steamboat recently.”
Travis Duncan, CPW public information officer for the northwest region, said Steamboat residents and visitors should be particularly careful about locking doors, using bear-proof trash cans and not leaving pet food outside during this time of year, as bears will soon be entering hibernation and are seeking about 20,000 calories a day.
“The goal is to keep the bear from getting a human food reward, so they don’t become accustomed to seeing it again,” Duncan said. “It’s especially important this time of year to make sure they’re finding natural food sources and not human food sources.“
Larry Desjardin, president of wildlife advocacy group Keep Routt Wild, said the reason bear sightings are so common around town is two fold — humans have settled in what has long been bear habitat, and reckless decisions like failing to shut dumpsters or lock up food has taught bears to rely on human food.
“We call them problem bears, but it’s really the humans that are the problem here,” Desjardin said. “We are in their territory, and what we’re doing is offering food sources that are readily available to the bears and that changes them from being naturally wild in the forest to looking in dumpsters.”
Desjardin said bears are smart, and once they get into a dumpster or pick up food off a street once, they are much more likely to do it again.
“We’re now finding cubs that were trained by their mothers to do this,” Desjardin said. “If you have restaurants dropping their waste downtown and not locking dumpsters, it’s like a cafeteria for the bears.”
Steamboat Springs Police Department Sgt. Rich Brown said the police department usually receives multiple calls a day about bears. In the past, officers could use air horns or turn police lights and sirens on and that would be enough to scare the bears away, but they have become so accustomed to humans that those tactics often aren’t enough anymore.
“In some cases, if we can do it safely, we’ll use bean bag rounds, so we’ll try and hit them and scare them off that way,” Brown said. ‘The bears are just so used to the interactions with people now.”
Steamboat Springs City Council passed an ordinance in 2019 requiring all trash containers to be certified as bear resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and dumpsters or dumpster enclosures to be bear resistant. Trash haulers are required to provide bear-resistant receptacles to their customers within a three-year period with full compliance by March 2023. Brown said using bear locks is typically very effective, but the department has seen an uptick in bears being able to get through locks.
“The bears are so determined to get in that they find ways to defeat the locking mechanisms on the cans and the dumpsters,” Brown said. “We’ve see a trend where they just tear the lids off the secure dumpsters.”
While bear attacks on humans are rare, Duncan said they become more common when bears get accustomed to eating human food and roaming around areas where people are present.
“They are naturally wary of humans and aren’t normally dangerous, but folks should be aware that they are wild animals, that they need their distance and that they should be kept away from human food,” Duncan said. “They are still predators.”
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On Thursday, a Grand County District Court judge sentenced a man with a history of burning slash piles on his property to 10 days in jail.