Vail gets first black bear reports of season

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VAIL — The Stewart kids are getting a quick education in wildlife awareness this month. The first lesson, imposed by mom, is, “No, you can’t feed the bear.”

The Stewart family — mom, dad and five kids — spends some time every summer at a friend’s Vail condo, a cool summer break from the heat of their Las Vegas home. In the early-morning hours a few days ago, Monica Stewart, mother to the five Stewart kids, spotted a good-sized black bear near the condo complex’s trash container. The bear had its way with the can, wrestling the lid far enough out of whack that it won’t latch any more. The bear was back that night, again looking for food, and had made at least one appearance on the family’s back deck.

“He’s fearless,” Monica Stewart said. “We have a mastiff (dog) that weighs 110 pounds — the bear didn’t bat an eye.”

The Stewart kids immediately named the bear “Mr. Bones,” since they thought the animal might be looking for the scraps — still safely in the kitchen trash — from the previous night’s dinner. They want to see more of their new friend, of course, and asked Mom if they could put out some food. The “no” was immediate.

Mr. Bones — or another bear — was the subject of the Vail Police Department’s first two bear reports of this year. Those reports both came Friday evening in the area of Kinnikinnick Road and Bellflower Drive in the Intermountain neighborhood. The second report indicated the bear might have overturned some trash cans in the area.

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While those reports are the first in Vail this year, bears have been prowling around for some time now. The lack of reports may have to do with the town’s “wildlife protection” ordinance, which requires residents and business owners to keep their trash, pet food and other items locked up in secure areas.

Since January, Vail code enforcement officers have issued more than 160 warnings to residents, but just one ticket has been written.

The story is similar in Avon. There, Avon Police Officer Bryan Mullet said there have been few reports from residents.

“We’ve had one little bear in the town core area, but that’s about it,” Mullet said. Mullet added that he’s seen very few violations of that town’s wildlife ordinances.

That’s good news, especially for the bears. If a problem bear is captured, tagged and relocated by state wildlife officers, then the animal is euthanized if it’s captured again.

But it’s remarkable to see wildlife, especially bears, as the Stewart family will attest. But there are lessons to be learned from being in such close proximity with those big creatures, Stewart said.

At the top of the Stewarts’ list is closing and locking their condo’s doors and windows every night. The family obeys the town’s trash rules, of course, and even the kitchen trash is kept in an enclosed can. The dog doesn’t go out unless it’s attached to an adult with a leash. Everyone in the condo looks carefully out of the windows before going outside, especially in the early morning and the evening, and the kids are learning to be aware of their surroundings when they’re out playing.

None of this is a particularly big deal, Stewart said. The kids use their binoculars to look for Mr. Bones out of the condo’s upstairs windows, not out of fear, but to have a better vantage point. Awareness doesn’t mean fear, she said.

“I’ve explained that this is where the bear lives, and he’s just searching for food,” Stewart said. “And it’s a fabulous story they’ll have to tell.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at

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