Signs of spring: Bears starting to emerge in Vail Valley
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – A bear was spotted on Vail Mountain last week. It won’t be long until hungry-from-hibernation animals start to appear in neighborhoods. And that means it’s about time for human-bear conflicts.
One state wildlife officials get involved in those conflicts, it’s often bad news for the bears. Wildlife officials will trap and relocate a problem bear once. If a previous offender is caught a second time, it’s destroyed. And, since bears are quick learners, they’ll often wander a long, long way to find easy sources of human food.
“It’s terrible to have to destroy any animal – even more so when you know it could have been prevented,” said Bill Andree of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, human-bear conflicts grew, in large part because humans kept moving into bear habitat. Often, the humans had little idea how to get along with bears.
As a result, local governments have passed wildlife ordinances, which deal primarily with trash, what it can be put in and when it can be out.
Vail has had a bear ordinance for several years.
“Overall, compliance has been good,” Vail police sgt. Robyn Fetterolf said. “It’s been quite successful.”
Andree agreed, saying that bear-human conflicts have gone down over the past few years. While four bears were put down last year in the upper valley, those animals had first been identified, but not caught, in 2009.
Generally, though, wildlife ordinances throughout the county seem to have had a positive effect on bear-human problems.
“It’s not a perfect system, but nothing’s perfect,” Andree said.
While it’s tough to break bears of the habit of searching for human food once they’ve learned about the potentially easy pickings from the area’s two-legged residents, a year that’s good for bears’ natural food helps keep them out of neighborhoods. While 2010 was a good food year, the bears killed in the early part of 2010 probably gained their bad habits the year before, when food wasn’t as plentiful.
Andree said it’s too early to tell how well the local food supply will grow this year. It’s also hard to tell just how late into the fall a bear will decide to hibernate.
“Two years ago we spotted a bear running around near Avon about Christmas,” he said.
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