A bear was euthanized Tuesday after it killed a miniature horse that was left overnight in an open corral near Junction Creek Road, a setback during an otherwise quiet season for bear interactions around La Plata County.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski wrote in an email that the division received a report Tuesday morning that a miniature horse was found dead on a rural residential property northwest of Durango, outside city limits.
Wildlife investigators found bear scat and hair, and they used dogs to track the bear, which was located about a half-mile away, along Junction Creek.
Lewandowski said the 209-pound adult male bear was shot around 9:30 a.m., in keeping with a division’s directive that a bear that has killed livestock must be euthanized.
The miniature horse, according to Lewandowski, was kept in an open corral on the property.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends that hobby livestock and pets be protected by bringing those animals into an enclosed structure at night,” Lewandowski wrote.
This was the fourth bear euthanized this summer. The division killed a sow and two yearlings after the animals caused extensive damage to property in the Durango Hills subdivision.
Otherwise, wildlife officials remarked on the few reports of bear interactions in the division’s study zone – Durango and parts of La Plata County – through the summer, mostly because of a good natural food cycle.
“It’s been extraordinarily quiet,” Lewandowski said. “And we’re happy to have it that way.”
According to reports in the study area, in 2015 there were six euthanizations and 19 bears killed by vehicles. So far this year, the division has killed four bears, vehicles killed three, and two were shot by landowners.
Lewandowski did not have 2015 numbers for bears killed by landowners, a legal practice if wildlife is causing property damage.
Last year between July and August, the number of human-bear interactions stood at around 260. This year, that number is at 50.
“Hopefully, that’s an indication that people are using trash cans properly and a combination of a good natural food year,” he said.
A spokesman with the city of Durango’s code enforcement office said there have been 30 complaints about trash can infractions this year, and 25 notices of violation as of Wednesday.
Yet, as bears enter their “feeding frenzy” stage before hibernation this fall, the chances of conflicts with bears increase, BearSmart’s Bryan Peterson said.
“Normally, it gets busier around mid-August when the vast majority of bears come down to the oak brush for acorns, but that’s happening late this year,” Peterson said. “I think everything’s kind of late this year, so I don’t know if it’s yet to happen or we’re just going to luck out and have a pretty easy bear year.”
Lewandowski also cautioned of the oncoming “hyphagia” (feeding nonstop), and asked residents to secure garbage and take down bird feeders.
“Bear conflicts are a fact of life in this area,” Lewandowski said. “They will continue forever. CPW officers will move to put down bears only when they show aggressive behavior and/or cause property damage. The bear population is very robust, the population is not threatened.”