Winning the battle of the bear | VailDaily.com

Winning the battle of the bear

Nicole Frey

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox A mama bear with one of her two cubs hangs out in a tree in Glenwood Springs. This time year, bears are looking for any food they can find - including trash - to fatten up for winter.

EAGLE COUNTY – In the relatively crime-free neighborhood of Wildridge, Chad Holleman habitually left his garage door open. That is, until a bear wandered in one day devouring three pounds of M&Ms and a bag of animal crackers. Since then, the door has been shut not only because of the scavenging bear, but because it’s the law.

As bear sightings and interactions with humans increased as the valley became more populated, town governments took action in 2003 and 2004 to limit bears’ contact with humans. With the numbers of sightings down this season, it seems new laws are having an impact. But Bill Andree of the Colorado Division of Wildlife is also giving some credit to the good berry season this year, which allows bears to feed on the mountain.At the start of the fall season, bears are gobbling as much as they can find to store up fat for their winter hibernation. Inhaling 20,000 calories during 20 hours of feeding time every day, bears will spare no source of food, whether berries are available or not, Andree said.”Their whole mindset is where to find the next set of groceries,” Andree said. “And bears are lazy. They’re just as happy to eat trash as berries.”When the berries run out in a couple weeks, the ravenous bears will continue to eat wherever they find food, Andree said.

“So they’ll come looking for trash,” he said. Trash is precisely what law enforcement officials are trying to deprive the bear of, said Sgt. Kurt Mulson of the Vail Police Department, which has been enforcing a bear ordinance since 2003. “There are health and safety issues for the people and the bears,” Mulson said. “The total number of calls are down, but people do still have to be cautious. If you remove the source of their edible delights, you’ll remove the bears.”Keeping trash away from bears is especially important to ensure bears with bad habits learn to subsist on their own, he said. “We’ve got some regulars around here,” Mulson said. “There are some mama bears who have taught their cubs how to get into the trash, and they have an amazing memory.”Although the bear sightings are down, officials warn they will continue to issue warnings and tickets if they discover residents who don’t follow the rules. “Realistically, you’re looking at a small fine to begin with, but it will become stiffer very quickly for repeat offenders,” Mulson said.Minturn only put a bear law in action this spring, and Police Chief Lorenzo Martinez said police won’t crack down until the local trash hauling company provides bear-proof trash containers to residents.”Officially, we haven’t really done anything with it,” Martinez said. “Hopefully, it’s all voluntary compliance, but once everything is in place, we’ll be strictly enforcing it.”

The Avon Police Department issued 12 citations this year, as opposed to only giving warnings last year to allow residents to get accustomed to the new law passed in 2004. “Hopefully it works as an education process,” said Steve Hodges, a patrol officer with the department. “Because even though the bears are going into hibernation, the law will not go into hibernation.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or nfrey@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado