Van Beek: Springtime awakening
Welcome to mud season, or as it is known by those in the resort industry, shoulder season — but with lots of mud.
For locals, it is a time to finally unwind a bit, take a short vacation, enjoy local restaurant specials and retail closeout sales, and experience the insanity that accompanies the combination of winter and spring … one day planting flowers, the next day shoveling snow in your shorts.
While we love our visitors, it is nice to have the place to ourselves for a little while. However, “ourselves” also includes our furry and sometimes rather large wildlife.
It’s exciting seeing the bears come back around … reminiscent of our childhood stuffed animals, except that these move, and are considerably larger, less cuddly, and a little bit cranky because they are “hangry.” It’s been a while since they’ve eaten, and they are not Winnie the Pooh.
As most of us know, living in the mountains has its unique challenges but living among nature’s beauty and creatures is one of its perks. After all, they are not treading on our turf — it’s us that must adapt to theirs.
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Bears, raccoons, skunks, and other animals and insects are coming out and may behave a bit more aggressively than normal.
We also experience the return of other wildlife as they prepare for spring mating season… more deer, skunks, raccoons, bats, and others. And, unlike “influencers” on social media, these guys all want their privacy and can get a bit irritated if people come around. It’s also a time when babies are born, and just like any “momma bear,” they will take your head off if you get too close.
Expect to see more bears, moose, and mountain lions, roaming around. Generally, they like to stay away from people, but people are a shortcut to food, which is appealing since many of their usual take-out places are still hidden under snow.
Regardless of where they make their home, they will always trek to water, so if you live on a lake or the river, expect to see them working their way down for a drink that will extend well beyond happy hour.
While the usual precautions are always in place, this time of year requires added awareness. As happy as you may be to see them, keep your distance — for they can easily outrun you. Even those that are not carnivores (who see you as a walking steak) may consider you a threat and can quickly put your world in a whole lot of hurt.
According to Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, which estimates that we have an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 bears statewide, “Bears are omnivores and primarily eat vegetation such as grasses, forbs, berries, acorns, and seeds. They also eat insects and scavenge on carcasses, but can occasionally prey on newborn calves and fawns, beaver, marmots, deer, elk, and even domestic livestock or agricultural products.”
That may include your pet dog or cat. It would be wise to bring in your fur babies indoors at dusk and keep them there during night hours. The danger subsides a bit once they get settled in their dens and their babies are beyond the “preschool” stage.
CPW also reminds us that bears “have an extremely keen sense of smell and excellent memories. Once they have learned about a reliable source of food, they will often return.”
And, just like your in-laws, you don’t want them hanging around your house.
While we are busy preparing our barbeque grills, setting out bird feeders, and bringing the dog bowl out to the deck, keep in mind that this is a food source that will attract an animal that hasn’t had a good meal in months.
There are some common tips to remember. When grilling, clean the grill immediately upon cooling. That burger scent remains and will attract wildlife for miles. The same goes for dog food (never store it on the deck or leave a bowl by the back door). Trash has a lingering scent of whatever was in it beforehand, and even your veggie wrapper still has an appeal to a hungry herbivore and he will tear things apart until he finds the fruit or vegetable he smells and knows must be in there, somewhere.
In addition, this time of year, we all get excited to begin hiking and other mountain recreational activities. Again, we all know what to do in preparation, but in the comfort of familiarity, we sometimes get careless about precautions. Thankfully, CPW is here to help keep us safe.
Tips for outdoor recreationists
- Make noise while walking or hiking to prevent surprising a bear. Clap, sing, or talk loudly.
- Travel in a group, if possible
- Pay attention to the surroundings and watch for bear signs, such as tracks, and claw or bite marks on trees
Tips to prevent human/bear conflicts for homeowners
- Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure and only put out garbage on the morning of pickup
- Take down all bird feeders, birds don’t need to be fed during the summer. Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts
- Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside and never provide food for any wildlife
Stay safe as we enjoy this wonderful warm weather, the blooming of color across the mountainside, and the switch in toys to accommodate our spring/summer lifestyle.
James van Beek is the Eagle County Sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.