EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - While a blast of wintry weather has extended the ski season for a weekend, recent snow has also delayed bears' emergence from their winter slumber.At the end of last year's dry, warm winter, bear reports started surfacing in March. So far this year, local wildlife officials haven't received any reports of bears wandering in residential areas."The bears are still out there - we just haven't had any reports," said Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer Bill Andree, whose territory includes Vail. Andree said there wasn't really a mud season last year, which meant people were out biking, hiking and walking around neighborhoods more than they might be in March and April of a more normal year.While there haven't been any bear reports yet in Vail, regional wildlife manager Perry Will said Aspen has already had a number of bear reports this season, including a home invasion by a bruin. Will said there's already a trap set in the neighborhood that bear is visiting.While bears are popping up in that part of the region, Will said it's not unusual for the animals to stay in their winter dens until the first weeks in May. When they do emerge, it's generally the males that venture out first, Will said. And when bears start waking up, they're hungry, and will generally eat just about anything.Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said those appetites are a good reason to remember and observe the standard "bear aware" rules. Properly managing trash, bird feeders and pet food are the items at the top of that list. The town of Avon also recently sent out a notice to residents that the town's wildlife protection ordinance - basically the bear aware rules with other requirements - is in effect from now until Nov. 15.While it's generally a good thing to observe the bear rules - a nuisance bear is euthanized if trapped a second time - Will said he hopes recent rain and snow will help build up the animals' natural food sources."There are considerably fewer conflicts," when natural food is abundant, Will said. "Even 'criminal' bears prefer natural food."A shortage of natural food due to last year's drought made life hard on the bears, Will said. If the natural plants bears use for forage are spared a killer frost in late spring, this year has the potential to be much easier on both the bears and humans."I really hope it's a great bear year," Will said. "If the weather cooperates, it should be fantastic."
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