Bears descend on La Plata County

Bear season is back in Southwest Colorado, courtesy of the recent weather pattern. Parched by a dry winter and spring, bears appear to be moving out of the woods and into populated areas looking for food.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife received a surge of reports this week and last from La Plata County residents about bears ravaging garbage cans, pillaging bird feeders and feasting on pet food.

“Wildlife officers suspect that the dry weather has hurt some of the bears’ traditional food sources, including berries and grasses, that they rely on during the spring,” said Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for the DOW in Durango. “In the fall they eat acorns from the scrub oak, but those won’t come on until late summer.”

The DOW has received reports from throughout the area, noting calls from Vallecito, Forest Lakes, Hermosa, Rafter J and north Durango.

Lewandowski explained that the bears are attracted by the aroma of easy-to-get food, and bears that become habituated to humans could be in danger. Bears that break into cars or buildings must be trapped, tagged and taken to a remote area to be released. If the bear gets in trouble again, it is destroyed. Trapping is hard on the animal and time consuming for wildlife officials. “The DOW uses trapping only as a last resort,” Lewandowski said.

The DOW offered the following tips to help keep bears out of trouble:

nKeep garbage in a well-secured location and only put it out on the morning of pickup. Clean garbage cans with ammonia and water to keep them odor free.

- Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.

- Bird feeders should be brought inside this time of year – birds don’t need to be fed during the summer. Clean up beneath bird feeders. At other times of the year, bring bird feeders in at night or hang where inaccessible to bears.

- Don’t compost. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food and will eat anything.

- Allow grills to burn for 10 minutes after cooking to eliminate odors. Clean the grill after each use and store indoors.

- If you have fruit trees, don’t allow fruit to rot on the ground.

DOW wildlife officers are happy to help people “bear proof” their properties. For more information, contact the DOW’s Durango office at 247-0855.


Elevated mercury found in Vallecito

Elevated mercury levels have been discovered in a local body of water. This week, a scientist from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will discuss recommendations to limit the consumption of certain fish caught at Vallecito Reservoir. The public forum takes place at the Vallecito Community Center on Tues., June 20, at 7 p.m.

Advisory signs were recently posted around the reservoir after elevated mercury levels were detected in fish tissue. Lucia Machado, a physical research scientist from the health department’s Water Quality Control Division, explained that routine sampling and analysis by the department and the Division of Wildlife has shown that some northern pike and walleye from the reservoir exceed the mercury limit of 0.5 parts per million set by the health department. Although the studies have not yet analyzed kokanee salmon and trout species from Vallecito, analysis of those species elsewhere in the state have detected low levels of mercury that do not warrant concern.

Mercury poisoning can affect humans of all ages. However, pregnant women and children under age 6 are especially susceptible, because mercury can harm developing nervous systems in fetuses and young children. Adults exposed to high mercury levels also can suffer from central nervous system and cardiovascular problems.

During next Tuesday’s meeting, Machado will share recommendations on the consumption of northern pike larger than 27 inches in length, walleye larger than 18 inches and walleye smaller than 18 inches. Area residents and anglers are encouraged to attend and ask any questions about the advisories.


Mercy Medical nears opening day

A new era in Four Corners health care is just around the corner. The new Mercy Medical Center, an 82-bed, $76-million facility in Grandview, will be dedicated in a public ceremony this Sat., June 17. The new regional medical facility will open for business 10 days later.

On June 27, the new hospital's emergency department will officially open at 6 a.m. when the process of moving hospitalized patients from the old hospital to the new facility begins. Upon the departure of the last patient, the old hospital will officially close, ending 124 consecutive years of patient care at that site. The patient move is expected to be complete by noon that day.

"We're excited to continue Mercy's legacy of care in a new building where we can provide a better healing environment and will have room to grow," said Kirk Dignum, Mercy's chief executive officer.

The new Mercy Regional Medical Center features private patient rooms, a healing garden with a waterfall, a labyrinth, a history wall, and advanced medical technology including electronic medical records, digital diagnostic imaging, and more.

The June 17 dedication will take place at the new facility, 1010 Three Spring Blvd., and be open to the public. The event includes an open house, brief speeches, a flag-raising ceremony, live music, refreshments and more. The ceremonies begin at 10 a.m., and the hospital open house runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information on the event or the new hospital, log onto


Broads take on off-highway vehicles

Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Durango-based conservation organization, gathered last weekend in an effort to turn back increasing damage from off-highway vehicles (OHVs). The group hosted its Broadwalk in the La Sal Mountains near Moab on June 8-12.

During the weekend, Great Old Broads trained, in partnership with Plateau Restoration, Red Rock Forests and the National Forest Foundation, more than 30 volunteers to monitor forest trails for OHV and other recreational-user impacts. Participants also spent one day in Pole and Doe canyons building fences and installing gates to block access to an area, which is closed to motorized vehicles.

“The Forest Service recently released final changes to travel management regulations intended to confine OHV travel to ‘designated routes’ throughout the national forests and grasslands,” said Veronica Egan, executive director of Broads. “The type of monitoring we are teaching citizens to do will help Forest Service mangers know where there are problem areas, what strategies for keeping OHVs on designated routes are working or not working, and provide important guidance for Resource Management Plans and Travel Plans.”

Great Old Broads for Wilderness, founded in 1989, is a nonprofit, public interest, public lands wilderness advocacy organization that uses the voices and activism of elders to increase, protect and preserve wilderness. The group’s “Broadwalks” are activist workshops intended to highlight specific endangered wild lands and educate participants as to how they can help to protect these fragile places.

– compiled by Will Sands