In Grand County, April brings bears out of hibernation

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Special to the Sky-Hi Daily News

In another sure sign that it’s spring, bear sightings have been reported in Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs and Aspen, and now Grand County, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Onlookers have seen a bear wandering in Grand Lake looking for convenient food sources, and another has been spotted in the Winter Park Highlands.

One might think the late, heavy snowfalls would encourage bears to roll over for extended shut-eye, but they are coming out right on time, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Depending on the weather and elevation, they are due out in early- to mid-April. In some cases, if they don’t find green grass or new plant growth to eat, they might return to the den. Females with cubs emerge later, in May.

Statewide, Colorado has 8,000 to 12,000 black bears, and “Grand County is very good bear habitat,” said Randy Hampton, DOW spokesperson.

Bears have been napping since as late as last November, so when they awake, one would think they’d be ravished. But not so, according to Hampton.

“They don’t immediately start consuming a great amount of food. They’re not rushing out to eat,” he said.

Instead, they spend a couple of weeks slowly coming out of their hibernation state. And when they emerge from the den, they start looking for grasses and flowers, foods that are easy to digest.

Bears hibernate where can find suitable den sites not dependent on elevation. They either crawl under a rock overhang, curl up under a pine tree with low branches, find a good cave, locate dugout spaces under stumps, “and in some cases, we’ve found them to hibernate under people’s decks,” Hampton said.

Grand County had very few bear problems last year. Four were killed by vehicles in all of Grand and Summit territories, but none were relocated out of Grand County due to conflicts.

Weather often dictates if bears will be more prevalent in populated areas, Hampton said.

For example, a June 17 killing frost in Aspen last year wiped out that region’s berry crop, causing many bear-human encounters as bears sought food in easy-to-find places, such as Dumpsters.

Grand County was fortunate last year because freezes did not kill off all the berry bushes.

“We’re hopeful that with the moisture this year, it slowly melts off. Then bushes are not likely to bloom as early, protecting them from late frost,” Hampton said.

A hundred years ago, there were places in Colorado where bears could live without coming in contact with people, but today there are few places left in bear habitat where people haven’t built subdivisions, campgrounds, or summer homes.

Given a choice, bears would just as soon avoid people, but there are not many far-away places to move bears “back where they belong” anymore.

Bears are territorial, meaning many times they’ll return to where they were captured within days.

As a result, “one of the best options left today is for people to take precautions and learn to co-exist with bears and other wildlife,” states the DOW.

The Division is reminding mountain residents to keep bears out of outdoor trash cans and garages.

Once a bear finds food in a location, it becomes programmed to continue looking for food in similar places.

If that location is near people, the desire for easy food will replace its fear of humans.

Leaving garbage out overnight ” even one time ” is a tempting invitation to bears. A mother bear that eats trash teaches her offspring to do the same.

“We rely on people because if we get involved, it could be too late,” Hampton said. “The reality is, people can make a difference if they take care of trash, bird feeders, pet food and barbecues. It’s simple things.”

If a bear wanders through a community and does not find anything to eat, it will keep moving and go back out of town looking for natural foods such as seeds, insects, edible plants, nuts, or berries.

But if it does find food, it could be conditioned to return there.

“A fed bear is a dead bear,” says the DOW.

Changing human behavior and removing common attractants discourages bear visits that put both humans and bears at risk.

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