Eagle County sheriff: Hibernation season is ending; be vigilant around all kinds of wildlife (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County sheriff: Hibernation season is ending; be vigilant around all kinds of wildlife (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

'Tis the season to be jolly, as hibernation season ends and "I'm so hungry, I could eat everything in sight" season begins. We have bear sightings in Avon, mountain lions in Edwards, bighorn sheep in Dotsero and moose near bodies of water, with deer, elk and coyotes all over the place, which are incredible if we are safe, and terrifying if we aren't.

Our local bears are primarily herbivores, thus will only attack if threatened, ill or protecting their young; however, "threatened" covers a wide range. If they are hungry and you stand between them and food, then you may get seriously injured as they swipe you out of their way. Also, that cute cub will surely have a momma bear nearby.

We are all familiar with bear-proof trash bins. Please remember, they only provide some protection from an animal whose strength can tear off a door, so keep them inside. However, if you leave your garage door open, then be careful not to lock a bear inside by accident or, like the resident who decided that he was safer locking the bear inside until authorities arrived, only to discover his car and entire garaged trashed. He's lucky the bear did not kick open the kitchen door.

Remember, odors travel. Keep your barbecue grill clean, don't store food in the garage and keep windows closed when gone, especially in kitchens. Empty the car after your Costco trip. Pet food in the garage is particularly appealing. Never, ever feed the wildlife, for they will definitely bite the hand that feeds them.

Baby bears are curious and may wander indoors. Momma will arrive shortly, and if "intruders" (home residents) are in the way of a peaceful escape, then she will remove you.

A few years ago, a woman entered her home to discover her kitchen torn apart. Uncertain of the condition of the rest of the house, she thought it was a robbery, except for the Subzero refrigerator door on the floor. She entered the living room, noticed a bear sitting with food scattered everywhere, eating a sandwich.

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With humor intact, she said the scene was so familiar that if the bear were holding a TV remote, she would have sworn it was her ex-husband. It turns out, she left some homemade pies cooling by the window.

Coyotes are carnivores and run in packs; their sheer numbers can be terrifying. As nocturnal hunters, they are sometimes difficult to spot, but if food is more plentiful during the day, you will see them roaming about. Their favorite meal is your pet. Of course, most know that we cannot leave our animals outside overnight but forget that wildlife also travels during daylight.

One family had a fenced yard for their terrier. The home was located next to an open field. What they did not know was that one of the coyotes would come up to the fence during late afternoons and make friends with their dog, while also digging behind some brush in the corner. One afternoon, they noticed their dog running toward the field, chasing the coyote. As soon as he reached the center, the entire pack rose up from the tall grass and the dog didn't have a chance. Caution is required 24/7.

One of the scariest animals is the mountain lion. They are hard to spot; when stalking prey, they are deadly silent. If you see a mountain lion, then chances are that you are not being stalked because if you were, your last sight would be that heavy beast on top of you. Their favorite meal is deer, so don't feed the deer or you may discover a mountain lion nearby.

Deer are generally docile creatures but if threatened can become aggressive. They are not Bambi; don't attempt to pet them. Moose are downright mean and fast — stay clear. Elk travel in groups, so be sure to leave them plenty of room to go between resting and mating territory.

If you hit a wild animal, then don't go near it. If it's injured, then it will be angry and most certainly will overpower you. Several years ago, a man hit a bear with his car. He observed the bear lying on the ground and decided to take it home to skin. After dragging it into his backseat, he drove away, and within minutes, the bear awoke. The situation of a wild bear, pissed off in a small car, with a clueless driver, is comical, only because he survived.

For additional safety tips, visit the Department of Wildlife website. Hunting reduces excess numbers of wildlife. Big game licenses are now digital, and lottery applications begin in April. Be safe — don't be dinner.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.