In bad food year, bears end up dead

Human-bruin run-ins on the rise

Killed after being hit by a vehicle, this bear was photographed in August 2012 on U.S. Highway 550, just north of the Glacier Club. Bear deaths rose sharply this year because a lack of natural food drew them into populated areas Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Bear Smart Durango

Killed after being hit by a vehicle, this bear was photographed in August 2012 on U.S. Highway 550, just north of the Glacier Club. Bear deaths rose sharply this year because a lack of natural food drew them into populated areas

The increase in black bear deaths in Southwest Colorado this year mirrors the toll elsewhere in the state, ursine experts say.

“This year, 2012, will probably be the most significant for human-bear interactions on record,” Randy Hampton, statewide spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Monday. “Historically, we’ve dealt with localized bear, but this year, it was across the board.

“Colorado has 5.2 million residents,” Hampton said. “There are more people recreating, more people on the road and more energy development, so we’re seeing bears where we never saw them before.”

Ultimately, more human-bear contacts mean more bear mortality, he said.

The drought, a late frost that hammered the stands of oakbrush acorns, chokecherries and serviceberries that provide bears with natural food and the habit of urban residents to leave food out for scavenging bears brought the problem to a head, the experts say.

In Colorado Parks and Wildlife Region 15, which includes Dolores, San Juan, Montezuma, La Plata and Archuleta counties, the number of nonhunter bear deaths for 2012, by agency statistics, is 83 (53 road kills, 10 by landowners and 20 by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers putting down troublesome bears). The corresponding number from 2011 was 36.

Peterson, who founded Bear Smart Durango in 2003 to educate residents about living in bear country, said his statistics come from the agency’s Monta Vista Service Center, Southwest Region.

In 2010, nonhunter ursine mortality in Region 15 was 30, a Bear Smart Durango report says. The average (2001-10) was 28.

An Associated Press story last week said through November, 100 bears were killed other than by hunters in Region 8, which includes Eagle and Pitkin counties and eastern Garfield County. The 100 deaths are up from 32 the year before. In 2010, there were 18 nonhunter bear deaths in the region.

Road kills and agency executions accounted for 80 of the 100 deaths. The corresponding totals for 2011 and 2010, respectively, were 11 and 7.

The AP story quoted Perry Will, a 38-year Colorado Parks and Wildlife veteran who manages the three-county area, who said he’d never seen a worse year for bears.

In Region 15, Colorado Parks and Wildlife this year relocated 17 first-time troublesome bears and killed 20 as second-strike troublemakers, said Joe Lewandowski, agency spokesman in Durango. In 2011, the corresponding numbers were seven and eight, he said.

No count of ursine traffic deaths was immediately available, Lewandowski said. Randy Hampton, with the agency in Denver, said the state didn’t have road-kill statistics for Region 15 either.

Parks and Wildlife has kept comprehensive bear records for only a few years.

The problems for bears started this year in May, when a late-May frost wiped out their natural food.

“When that happens, bears look for food where we don’t want to see them, in urban areas,” said Mike Porras, also a Parks and Wildlife spokesman. “The whole state was hit.”

Hampton said the agency’s number one priority is educating the public about living with bears.

When their habitat is in good condition, bears tend to stay in the wild unless they have learned that in urban areas tipping over garbage cans, getting into pet food or cleaning up backyard barbecue grill is easier.

Many city dwellers are hard to convince that putting food out of a bear’s reach goes a long way to solving the problem.

Patt Dorsey, the area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango, knows how stubborn some residents are.

“I was in a neighborhood off Florida Road on Labor Day this year about a bear in a house of a woman who was alone,” Dorsey said Monday. “We found there was no bear, but a neighbor of hers said: ‘I know there’s a bear problem here because I’ve been picking up my garbage all summer.’”

Durango city councilors are scheduled to revisit an ordinance regarding trash collection and recycling. The ordinance addresses wildlife-proof containers and their secure storage. But in a draft version, references to “garbage” have been struck out.

daler@durangoherald.com

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