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Eagle County bear sightings have doubled from 2019

Many of the bear calls this year are about large male bears wandering through neighborhoods

Eagle County has had roughly twice the number of bear reports this year as in 2019.
Rick Spitzer | Special to the Daily
Do bears really hibernate? We use “hibernation” to refer to the long winter naps taken by bears. But that’s not entirely accurate. According to the National Forest Foundation, bears enter a state of lighter sleep called “torpor.” During those periods, the animals reduce their breathing, heart and metabolic rates. Bears can sleep more than 100 days without eating, drinking or passing waste.

Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.

Whatever the answer, the fact is that reports of bear sightings have increased sharply from 2019 to this year.

According to the Oct. 1 bear report from the town of Vail, there have been 183 bear sightings in residential areas and public ways so far this year. The 2019 sightings added up to 87 for the year.

While more bears have been spotted, the town this year has actually issued fewer warnings about its wildlife ordinance than it did in 2019.

The main categories remain constant — drawn to or going through trash, roaming in a yard or walking on a street, roadway or path. But more calls have come in this year.

Randy Hampton, the western Colorado public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said that increase in reports has been constant across Eagle County. Hampton said there have been 256 total calls this year in Eagle County. There were only 112 such calls in 2019.

Hampton said part of the increase may be due to people being home more in daylight hours this year.

They’re doing OK — mostly

The bears sighted this year are generally pretty well-fed, and seem to be finding plenty of food in the wild.

But people seem to be reporting the presence of more large bears this year.

“We’ve been getting a lot of reports of large male bears — more than I’ve typically experienced in the past,” Hampton said. But, he added, there are also plenty of reports of yearling bears, with little middle ground between the Yogi and Boo-Boo sized ursines.

All those bears are hungry this time of year, preparing for their winter naps.

Hampton noted that bears now will be eating or looking for food for about 20 hours per day, all in the quest to pack on as much of 20,000 calories per day in preparation for winter.

The calls coming into local law enforcement and wildlife officers range from simple sightings to requests for service. That can include bears that have to be trapped and relocated, or, in rare cases, euthanized.

Downvalley areas don’t have anything like the bear calls reported in higher-elevation areas, but one of those calls came Aug. 9 from the Eagle County Regional Airport. There, a bear climbed a fence and started rummaging around in a trash container.

That bear was trapped and relocated, Hampton said.

The risks of relocation

Relocating bears can be tricky, though. Hampton noted that parts of Colorado with good bear habitat already have plenty of bears. A bear relocated to those areas risks being killed by animals already in that habitat.

Trapping and relocating bears poses another risk to the animals: the danger of being tranquilized.

Hampton noted that doctors preparing people for surgery have accurate information on a patient’s weight and when that person last ate.

Wildlife officers have to make a best guess about a bear’s weight and how much or how recently it has eaten.

Hampton said that can lead to a mortality rate of up to 10% when tranquilizing bears.

That’s among the reasons that a sickly-looking bear in East Vail is being left alone. That small bear — dubbed “Bobo the Mangey Bear” in the Vail bear report — has been spotted several times in the past few weeks.

Hampton said it’s probably best for the bear if it’s simply left alone. It may get better after a winter’s rest. It may not get better, but may have a better chance at surviving in the wild.

And most bears wandering through human-populated areas will be fine and move on, as long as they aren’t finding food.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s website has numerous tips for living in bear country. Hampton referred people to that site to learn how best to keep bears moving through neighborhoods.

But fed bears are dangers to both themselves and humans. They also have long memories, which is why relocation doesn’t always work.

“We did a study of (tracking) collared bears near Glenwood Springs that showed bears would return to food sources a year later,” Hampton said.

“Once they get food, whether it’s trash, dog food or something else, a bear’s very likely to return,” he added.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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