EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - This has been a tough year for bears. It may be a tough one for bear-human encounters, too.
Last winter's drought, and a hot, dry June have combined to limit bears' natural food supplies. A lot of bears are also slipping into their ritual of gorging before going into their long winter's naps in the late fall.
That means there have already been more bear sightings than usual along the valley floor this season. Wildlife officials have already euthanized several bears this summer.
The bears' hunger has brought them into down-valley areas where they aren't usually spotted until later in the summer, if at all.
"This year's shaping up to be like 2002," Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Manager Perry Will said. That year, another severe drought brought an unusual number of bears into human neighborhoods.
This year, a female bear with at least one cub has been spotted in several neighborhoods in Gypsum, from Valley Road south of town to the Bureau of Land Management campground just west of town. That bear was spotted napping in a pasture near the town cemetery Wednesday afternoon.
According to Sgt. George Dow of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, the bear hasn't been aggressive, and no conflicts have been reported. Still, it's going to be tricky to keep the bear out of town. Since Gypsum rarely has bears in town, the town's trash receptacles are all plastic, and few, if any, residents have bear resistant trash containers.
Dow encouraged residents to do their best to keep their trash inside until trash day, he acknowledged that indoor trash could lead a bear to break into a home, potentially causing more serious problems.
Bears are frequent visitors at the other end of the valley, and the town of Vail has regulations in place to limit bear-human encounters. Those regulations include bear-resistant trash containers, which can only be hauled out to the curb on trash days.
Even with those regulations, Vail Police Sgt. Annette Dopplick said bear reports have increased over the past couple of weeks. Still, no human-bear encounters have been reported.
While bears in towns create a risk for both themselves and humans, they're also more active in area campgrounds, which means areas that just ended fire restrictions for campers are now on full alert for bears.
The Yeoman Park campground southeast of Eagle has been closed to "soft-sided" shelters including tents and canvas-walled pop-up campers. Will said there's evidence people have been feeding a bear near Sylvan Lake, since the animal will just walk up to people.
That's a bad idea, for both people and bears, Will said.
Still, bears are supposed to be in places like Yeoman Park, and Will said he'll close down a campground if necessary to reduce bear-human conflicts.
Yeoman Park "Is 20 miles out of town," Will said. "Where do you want the bears to go?"
Will said most people are willing to help bears by doing their best to limit conflicts.
"But you have to have 100 percent compliance in a neighborhood," Will said. "If you have one house out of 10 that isn't doing it, you'll have conflicts."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.