Vail’s bear report takes a light-hearted look at ursine neighbors
Weather may be part of increase in bear reports this spring
If you want a chuckle or two every week, check out Vail’s bear report. But do that while remaining serious about bears in human neighborhoods.
Brian Gadberry is an administrative technician for the Vail Police Department. In June of 2019, he was handed responsibility for the town’s weekly bear report, and decided to have a bit of fun with it.
The report these days includes Gadberry’s light-hearted narrative of bears spotted in town.
A report from June 17 notes that a bear was spotted on the town’s North Frontage Road at about 8:30 p.m.
“Bear seen in trash then ‘encouraged to go to the mountain.’ Understandable, nice hiking and great scenery,” the report notes.
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A June 20 sighting, from the same area of North Frontage Road, notes the bear was “Chilling, walking around,” on the west side of the Safeway store. “Unsure if this would count as a bear call or just loitering,” the report notes.
Gadberry said he decided to add a bit of humor to make the weekly duty a bit more interesting and, perhaps, draw a bit more attention to the reports.
“It’s gone from something to just scan to something you might want to pay attention to,” Gadberry said.
Most of the comments come from inside Vail’s Town Hall, but he’s also been asked to send reports to others.
Randy Hampton has been Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Northwest Region Public Information Officer since March of this year. He’s seen the reports, and enjoys them.
The serious side
But bear management, especially in human neighborhoods, is potentially dangerous, especially for bears.
There have been more bear calls this year than in 2019. The numbers in Eagle County aren’t huge, but more bears have been sighted in neighborhoods.
Hampton said there are a few possible reasons for the increase.
The biggest reason could be weather. This spring got warm and dry earlier than in 2019. The county’s first bear call this year came on April 3, in Edwards. The first bear call of 2019 was April 19, also in Edwards.
An early spring will rouse bears from their winter slumber sooner than after a long winter. But whenever the bears awake, they’re hungry.
That’s when the weather can play another role. Bears naturally forage for chokecherry, crabapple and serviceberry. How fast those plants mature, or if a late frost stunts their growth, can affect whether or not bears decide to look for food in human neighborhoods.
This year’s COVID-19 pandemic may also play a role in the increase in bear reports.
More people are home, Hampton noted. A bear in a driveway in 2019 may not have been noticed when a resident was off at work. That resident may be spending more time at home, with more time to notice what’s outside in the middle of the day.
Less traffic on Interstate 70 has also allowed bears and other wildlife to move around a little more freely.
“Bear, seeminly undeterred by human presence hit once in the rear by a pepperball and was ‘fairly unconcerned.’”
This report, from June 15, illustrates one of the potential problems with bears rummaging through human neighborhoods.
When to relocate?
Miguel Jauregui, the town of Vail’s lead code enforcement officer, said town officials are in frequent contact with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about all kinds of wildlife. The state agency ultimately makes decisions about whether or not to intervene in specific cases, from bighorn sheep to moose to bears.
Hampton said reports are just one part of when, and how, to intervene when wildlife live among humans.
In the case of bears, there’s a lot to consider.
There’s the matter of potential danger of humans or livestock, of course.
A bear near Carbondale this year has killed a couple of domestic goats, and a trap has been set out for that animal.
The state has a fund for wildlife depredation of livestock, but there are times when an aggressive animal must be moved.
But, Hampton said, there isn’t always a trap available. Wildlife officers are also often strapped for time.
“We want to be judicious,” Hampton said, adding, “If we choose to intervene, we have to recognize that the bear will be tagged and relocated, and put down if it’s trapped again.”
And relocation doesn’t always work. Wildlife officers in the past have half-joked that after driving several hours to relocate a bear, the animal can be back in a neighborhood almost as quickly as a wildlife officer can drive back.
And bears have good memories about where to get food.
Hampton said the department in 2005 did a study that determined bears will return to a known food source as long as a year after being removed from a site.
Hampton said that means a short-term condo renter who’s careless with bird feeders or household waste can create a problem for an entire complex for a year.
Another problem is where to relocate a problem animal in a state with 6 million residents.
Even if a suitably remote site can be found, a bear’s survival is no sure thing due to factors including familiarity with new territory to, in the case of a male bear, whether there’s another dominant male already in the area.
There aren’t any good answers, Hampton said. But one piece of advice can help.
“If you see a bear, the best thing you can do is yell at it and drive it away,” Hampton said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.