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Bears emerge from hibernation in Steamboat; residents urged to secure garbage, attractants

Derek Maiolo, Steamboat Times
With the warmer weather and receding snow, black bears are emerging from hibernation in the Yampa Valley. Wildlife officials are urging residents to secure their dumpsters and any other attractants that could lead to conflicts with wildlife.
John F. Russell

Spring has sprung, and that means animals, like bears and moose, are getting more active in Routt County.

A string of recent sightings and conflicts has officials urging residents to secure their trash cans and keep safe distances from wildlife.

Local Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers have received multiple reports of bears in and around Steamboat Springs, according to district wildlife manager Kyle Bond. Some of these reports are simply bear sightings, but others are related to issues surrounding human-supplied food sources, such as open trash containers.

“We do expect reports to start accelerating as we get further into spring,” Bond said.

In mid-March, Steamboat CPW received a report of a bear that broke into a chicken coop in the Brooklyn neighborhood and ate several chickens in what appeared to be the first bear conflict of the season. The same bear returned several times to the neighborhood, breaking into another chicken coop and several trash cans, Bond said. 

In the wake of that incident, CPW officers urged residents to bring in bird feeders, trash and any other attractants. Officers advised the owners of the chicken coops to add more protective barriers, such as electric fencing. 

Wildlife officials set up a trap to try to catch the bear and relocate it, but they removed the trap on March 22 after those attempts were unsuccessful. The bear has not caused any recent incidents, Bond said.

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers have been conducting patrols around Steamboat and noticed many violations regarding the city’s trash ordinances, according to Sgt. Rich Brown. This comes as the Police Department has received an increase in bear reports.

“It’s that time of year. We are seeing them out all over the place,” Brown said.

Ordinances require trash containers that are not bear-resistant to remain indoors at all times except between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on trash pick-up days. 

Steamboat Springs City Council was scheduled to vote on a stricter ordinance that would have required all residents and businesses to store their trash in bear-resistant containers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that vote has been rescheduled to May 5, according to Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter.

These trash ordinances aim to reduce the habituation of bears into communities that can lead to serious conflicts.  Last year, CPW received 5,369 reports of human-bear incidents, according to a recent news release, with nearly a third of those involving bears breaking into trash cans.

“When a high-country berry bush yields a few hundred calories and a dumpster gives up thousands of calories via leftovers and greasy goodies, the bears will make the easy choice,” officials said in the news release. “Once they’ve made that choice, they are instinctively trained by their stomachs to search out the easy option.”

Elsewhere in the state, CPW has received reports this year of bears breaking into vehicles and injuring pets as a result of being more habituated with people.

When bears pose a threat to communities, it is the policy of CPW officers to prioritize the safety of the public. If people do not adequately prevent bears from becoming habituated with human-supplied food, it forces officers to relocate or, in worst-case scenarios, kill the animals. 

As CPW said in its news release, preventing such conflicts not only protects people’s home and property, it can save a bear’s life.

Wildlife officials also have received multiple reports of moose sightings on trails in and around Steamboat.

In March, a Steamboat man was trampled by a moose as he was walking with his dog on the Right-O-Way trail at Steamboat Resort. Fortunately, he walked away with only minor bruising.

To prevent conflicts with moose, CPW advises people to keep dogs on leashes and keep far away from the animals. If people encounter a moose, they should move slowly and avoid looking directly at the animal. They should move further away if the moose shows signs of aggressions, such as raising the hair on its neck, licking its snout, cocking its head or rolling its eyes and ears back. 


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