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More bears visiting Vail Valley

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Vail Daily file photo/Wren Wertin
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VAIL – As a tourist town, Vail is all about attracting visitors.

Unless, of course, those visitors are bears.

Bears have been making an unusually high number of trips into town lately, wildlife experts say.

What gives?

“We’ve had a much wetter summer than we usually do and that’s really affected our local berry crops,” said Ryan Millbern, head of bear mitigation and management for Vail police.

With all the rain that soaked the area in June, a fungal disease caused brown spots on some wild berries, making them less appealing to bears, said Randy Hampton, a spokesman with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Because many bears are used to finding an easy meal in people’s trash, they’ve turned to garbage for food, he said.

“Instead of looking around for natural food, they head to town,” Hampton said.

A bear has broken into 12 to 15 cars in East Vail this past week, Millbern said.

“This seems to be pretty much the work of one particular bear though it is out of the ordinary for us to see this many break-ins,” he said.

The bear has figured out how to open unlocked car doors, Millbern said.

“Bears are pretty crafty,” Millbern said. “They can work a lot of different types of doorknobs. They can open windows. They can open vehicles if they are unlocked.”

With most of the car break-ins, people had left food in their cars, Millbern said. He urges people to take food out of their cars.

In general, Vail residents have been spotting more bears around town this year, Millbern said.

“We’ve been seeing more of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve been having more problems with the exception of that one particular bear.”

Likewise, Avon police report a rise in bear sightings compared with last year. Avon police have received 59 calls about bears since they emerged from hibernation this year, Avon police service officer Matt Jamison said. The station only received 16 calls last year, he said.

Cool nights are part of what’s driving the bears’ hunger pangs, Hampton said.

“As the nights cool off, it’s really one of those things that, biologically, signals the bear to prepare for hibernation,” Hampton said.

To prepare for hibernation, bears eat 20 hours per day and down 20,000 calories each day, he said.

“So when that becomes their sole drive, they’re going to go where they can get food easily,” he said. “Unfortunately, bears have learned that towns are where they can get food easily.”

Colorado has a two strike policy for bears, Hampton has said. If a bear gets into trash or cars, officials can relocate it, he said. If the bear causes trouble again, officials can put it down, he said. In Eagle County, Department of wildlife officials have killed four bears this year, he said. That’s more bears than last year, but the same number as in 2007 and 2005, Hampton said. Wildlife officials relocated one bear that was getting into trash and sent three bear cubs to rehabilitation, he added.


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