Sidebar: Bear etiquette
at home and in the field
Melody Miller knows bears. In her more than four years as district
wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango
she has seen and heard it all. Asking her to tell bear stories
is like asking a longshoreman to tell his tales of the sea –
it all depends on how much time you have.
One of her favorite bear stories
came from a woman who lived up Wildcat Canyon and left her door
open with a bag of cat food sitting nearby.
“A bear came in, grabbed
the bag of cat food and sat on the couch with the bag of food
between his legs,” Miller said. In a reverse sort of Goldilocks
scenario, the woman arrived home to find someone definitely
had been sitting on her couch.
“The bear left two butt
prints on the couch,” she said. But at least the intruder
proved to be a discerning one – he picked the best seat
in the house, one in front of the big picture window facing
west, the woman reported. “Apparently he decided to watch
the sun go down,” Miller said.
Then there’s the story
of the clutzy bear who walked away from an incident that would
have earned any mere homo sapiens a swift steel-toed kick in
the butt, if not a trip to the local intensive care unit.
a group of motorcyclists had stopped at Purgatory to stretch
their legs, and while they were away, the contents of a saddlebag
on one bike intrigued a resident bear. As he rifled through
the bag, a biker returned and shouted at the bear.
“It startled the bear,
and he ended up knocking over the bike, which started the domino
effect,” Miller said. “He knocked over the whole
line of bikes.”
Fortunately for the bear,
the ploy (whether intended or not) worked – the bikers
were distracted just long enough for him to make a run for it.
Miller’s list goes on.
There’s the one about the bear who walked into a gas station
in Cortez; the bear who mastered the electronic doors at Purgatory
and entered the resort lobby; the bear who, frustrated over
a bear-proof garbage can, carried it off into the woods; the
bear who took a swim in a kiddie pool and turned the water brown
(“not sure where that bear had been”); and the bear
who broke into a car that had been used to transport a pizza.
According to Miller the stories
are so varied because, just like humans, no two bears are exactly
“Bears are kind of like
people except they wear long, shaggy coats and speak a different
language,” she said. “Each one has a different personality.
You have the ones that don’t like people and stay in the
high country; you have the ones who are social and like people;
and you have the ones that are just plain nasty.”
Nevertheless, Miller said
overall, bears are inherently well-meaning.
a little destructive,” she said.
However, this year’s
destruction may soon be coming to an end. Miller said she has
noticed bear activity for the season tapering off – a
welcome relief over last year when bears foraged well into December
and perhaps a sign snow is on the way. She also has found that
this year bears are going into their long winter’s sleep
with more fat than last year – something that can be attributed
to late summer rains that brought fall food sources.
“They have a good layer
of fat going into hibernation and quite a few seem to be doing
all right,” she said.
As for the prospect of a snowy
winter, Miller is cautiously optimistic.
“Only time will tell,”
she said. “I have a feeling Mother Nature is trying to
tell us that we’re going to have a good winter. We’ll
just have to watch the animals and see what they do.”
However, Miller isn’t
the only Durangoan with bear stories to tell. In fact, after
soliciting Durangoans for bear stories, we found that, like
four-wheel drives and fleece socks, we all have ’em. Well,
most of us, that is.
“I’m the bear
guy, and I’ve never seen a bear,” said Bryan Peterson,
of the county’s Animal Damage Advisory Committee, which
advises residents on how to coexist peacefully with their furry
Peterson’s bad timing
aside, here’s a look at some of the bear sightings that
didn’t get away.
Why the bear
crossed the road
Angel Harris, of Durango,
wrote in her harrowing tale of bears and bikes.
“Some friends and I
were returning from Purgatory on our motorcycles on Highway
550, headed south,” she wrote. “Just past Dalton
Ranch a cub ran out in front of us. We all locked up our brakes
and started shutting down.”
Harris said the first two
riders managed to miss the bear cub – and each other.
But motorcycle No. 3, which Harris was a passenger on, and the
cub for that matter, were not so lucky.
“The cub ran square
into his leg,” she said.
Fortunately, all involved
parties walked or scampered away seemingly unharmed, except
for unlucky driver No. 3, who left the scene with a charlie
horse to remember the bear by.
“The third guy had a
pretty stiff leg for the rest of the day,” she wrote.
Harris said the whole thing
happened so quickly she didn’t even know what his the
bike until it was over.
“That was the worst
part about it was,” she said. “I had my head down
because of the wind, so I never even saw the bear”
Andrew Wracher, whose parents,
David and Nancy, live in Edgemont Ranch, gave us his story of
a bear stuck in a hammock on his parents’ porch.
Apparently, the bear was en
route to a suet-filled bird feeder when he became ensnared in
a woven hammock.
“At first it looked
like he was just out there swinging,” Wracher said. “But
actually he was stuck. Every time he would free one paw another
one would fall through the netting and he would get more tangled.”
Eventually, the bear realized
the side-to-side approach was getting him nowhere – and
drawing the unwanted attention of several human glass-pressers
– and he escaped out the end by lowering his butt to the
“I think he was really
embarrassed,” Wracher said. “He just ran off.”