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Bears begin to awake from hibernation

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Bears are starting to emerge from their long winter naps. It’s a bit early but not excessively so.

As a point of comparison, last year’s “the bears are waking up” story in the Vail Daily was published on April 14.

“We usually start getting reports in April, and it’s the last week of March,” said Bill Andree, local wildlife officer with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.

And, so far, there haven’t been too many bear sightings reported to local or state officials. Andree said he got a couple of reports out of Eagle-Vail last week, but as of March 26, Vail police hadn’t received any reports yet.

Still, there’s anecdotal evidence that the bears are starting to stir. Eagle County Animal Services Director Shawn Markmann said he’s heard second-hand reports of bear sightings around the county.

“We haven’t had any reports of bears in town yet, but it would be naive to think they aren’t out there,” wildlife officer Craig Wescoatt said.

Elsewhere, there have been reports of bears getting into garbage in Aspen, and, Andree said, this spring the bear reports seem to be starting up statewide. Bear sightings usually vary from region to region, depending on the weather.

While bears are starting to emerge, it can take them a little while to get fully into “need to eat” once they’re awake.

Mike Porras of the Division of Wildlife said the bears seen in Aspen might have been awake since late February, but there’s really no way to know.

And what kind of food supply those bears will find in the wild still depends a lot on what kind of weather we’ll have the rest of this spring. Late, deep snowfall can make food harder to find, and a late frost in May or early June could destroy blossoms on serviceberry bushes on which the bears depend. Lack of natural food could drive more bears into populated areas.

And the fewer bears are around people, the better life is for humans and animals alike. The old adage that “a fed bear is a dead bear” is absolutely true, Porras said.

Bears are intelligent and opportunistic, Porras said. And once bears have lost their fear of humans, trouble for people and a lethal injection for the bear is a too-frequent result. A bear looking for food last year attacked three campers – near Twin Lakes and near Aspen – before it was caught and killed.

Mother bears that have lost their fear of humans teach their cubs those traits, too, Porras said, and relocating a bear that’s become acclimated to human food doesn’t work very often. Porras said a bear and her cubs that were relocated to the Flat Tops area a couple of years ago were spotted near Grand Junction a matter of days later. And a bear that’s caught a second time is put down.

While bears create the biggest conflicts between animals and humans, Andree said all kinds of animals start wandering around in the spring. A trash container designed to keep out bears can also keep out raccoons and skunks. Those animals can make a big mess out of trash can, and moving a nesting skunk can be a smelly proposition.

Vail has trash regulations intended to cut down on human-bear conflicts, and Sgt. Bill Clausen said officers are starting to look around town for people who might be violating those regulations.

“We haven’t issued any summonses yet, but we have written a few warnings,” Clausen said.

Maybe that means what Andree is hoping for – people who are in a year ’round habit of keeping wildlife away from their homes and businesses.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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