Bear problems spike this summer
VAIL Michael Newbury is having the ultimate Rocky Mountain vacation. The weather has been pleasant, the flowers are in bloom and a bear has been lumbering around in his daughters West Vail neighborhood.It was in the evening, and he was in that trash over there, Newbury said, pointing to a condo iin his daughters complex. There was some milk in the trash, and he was lapping it up.Eagle County has laws that forbid people from putting their trash out early. Unsecured trash is blamed for most bear incidents in the Rocky Mountains, said Bill Andree, state wildlife officer. But some residents arent following those laws, either because they dont know about them, or dont care, Andree said. I hate to use the old clich that the fed bear is a dead bear, said Vail Police Det. Ryan Millbern. The fact remains that its true. Bears are a wonderful resource they are one of the reasons I like to live here. But feeding the bear is a whole other story.Its not just trash, though. Just the smell of food wafting out of a home can attract a bear. Wildlife officials say a bear tore off a window screen in a luxury home near Colorado Springs on Thursday and snarfed down hot dog buns, chicken legs and tortillas.If they smell food anywhere, theyll investigate, said Michael Seraphin, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. People should take the same precautions to keep bears out of their homes as they would burglars.
Locally, wildlife officers have had to kill two bears this year that were frequenting the Eagle-Vail neighborhood. The bears had been out since December. Andree said thats because there was so much trash left out to eat the bears didnt need to hibernate. The eastern part of the county tends to have more bear problems because there are homes closer to prime bear habitat.Vail actually is having more problems this summer than last summer, Andree said. Wildlife officers have been called to East Vail, in particular, because bears have broken into houses. No one has been injured, and in most cases, no one was home when the bear was inside the house.The bears are coming into Vail earlier than normal because the recent hot and dry weather killed off much of the succulent plants bears like to eat in the wild, Andree said. Berries, another bear favorite, havent ripened yet. The Vail Police Department is trying to reduce bear problems by warning residents to keep trash inside unless it is their pick-up day. Bears are pretty crafty, Millbern said. They can associate locations with food.Avon Police also have been patrolling neighborhoods for violators of the towns wildlife protection law. Like Vail, Avon requires homeowners to either put their trash in bear-proof containers, or put out and remove their trash placed at the curb on the same day. So far, police have issued 137 warnings this summer and six tickets. Reports of bear sightings are down in Avon this summer, said Avon Police Chief Jeff Layman. Police were called out to chase bears away 44 times in June and July. So far this year, police have been called out only nine times. Layman doesnt know if thats because residents are doing a better job of keeping their trash in or if bears have decided to travel to Vail this summer instead.We get a lot of bear sightings but I think people are getting more accustomed to seeing them around, Layman said. Unless, of course, they are inside their house.A bear did break into a Wildridge home last week. Avon police were able to shoo it away by shooting a pepper ball that emits a hot, irritating pepper gas on impact. Pepper balls work very well, Millbern said. Bears in Vail came to associate the Vail Police Departments cars, which were Saabs until a year ago, with the pepper balls. As soon as the police car pulled up, the bear would run away, he said. It works like a charm, Millbern said. If residents were more responsible about their trash, it would cut down on bear encounters by 60 or 70 percent, Andree said. If a bear is caught going through trash several times, or has injured someone, it is destroyed. When things go bad, the bears die, Andree said. Staff Writer Tamara Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607, or email@example.com.The Associated Press contributed to this story.Vail, Colorado