Bryan Peterson, founder of Bear Smart Durango, said black bears and humans bumped into each other more frequently in La Plata County last year than in any other year since he started keeping track in 2007.
Bear sightings/incidents and reports of bears getting into trash cans totaled 1,545 in 2012. Trash-can invasions accounted for 916 of the cases. Sightings/incidents occur when someone reports seeing an ursine or when a bear raids a chicken coop or tries to enter a house.
Total bear reports for 2007 through 2011 were, respectively: 1,274; 228; 616; 1,162; and 825.
Black bears largely will remain in the woods if they find sufficient natural food, including acorns, chokecherries and berries. But if a late frost decimates their plant food, bears forage in urban areas.
There, they’ve found humans very obliging. Unsecured garbage cans, pet food left outside, uncleaned barbecue grills in the patio and bird feeders within easy reach are a nourishment bonanza.
Peterson in 2003 started Bear Smart Durango to educate residents about how to live in bear country.
Bears are out and about from March to December, with most activity occurring in June, July, August, September and October. In 2012, all but 65 of the 1,545 cases occurred in those five months.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife collects data about bear deaths from hunting and otherwise. In 2012, hunters killed 148 bears while 74 bears died from other causes. The list of other causes includes bears killed by vehicles, landowners, electrocution and being put down by wildlife officers.
The yearly number of total bear deaths since 2007 is, respectively: 165, 161, 136, 188, 238 and 222. Bear deaths are reported by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, covering the agency’s Area 15, which is La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties.
La Plata County in 2008 enacted an ordinance requiring residents to keep their trash away from bears, and the city of Durango approved a wildlife ordinance in 2010.
The 916 reports in 2012 regarding bears getting into garbage covered 844 in Durango and 72 in La Plata County. The town of Bayfield is counted as part of the county. Durango code-enforcement officers reported 497 cases of bears in trash, issued 175 written warnings and two citations. La Plata County Sheriff’s Office reported 22 cases, issued 2 warnings and no citations.