Durango Telegraph - Theories on the bear boom: Late frost could be culprit
Theories on the bear boom: Late frost could be culprit

The theories may differ, but one thing’s for sure: the bears are back in town. After four relatively mild years of bear action, local wildlife officials and watchers say the summer of 2007 is shaping up to be a doozy as far as human-bear conflicts.

“We’re definitely worried,” said local Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman, Joe Lewandowski. “It’s been a difficult year so far, and as we head into fall, it could get worse.”

While Lewandowski said the DOW doesn’t track the number of bear calls it gets, he said a large chuck of the area’s seven wildlife officers’ time has been spent recently responding to bear calls. “We get calls constantly,” he said. “This is the kind of year where we’re really asking people to help us out.”

Richard Speegle, recreation manager for the San Juan National Forest, said bear sightings at forest campgrounds have been up this summer over previous years as well. “We are definitely seeing more bears at the campgrounds, and we’re seeing them earlier than we usually do,” he said.

According to Bear Smart Durango, there were 83 reported bear sightings over the last two weeks. Thirty-three of these were related to trash problems, with county residents experiencing 50 percent more activity than their city cohorts. According to the group’s director Bryan Peterson, this summer has been the busiest bear season since the summer of 2002, when intense drought and fires destroyed much of the bears’ natural food.

“It’s definitely been a far-worse bear season this year than the last few prior,” he said. Peterson said bears typically come down to lower elevations in the spring after hibernation, in search of vegetation. “Bears normally come out of hibernation in spring and go low because that’s where the food is,” he said. “I think they came down this spring and just never left.”

Lewandowski said one possible scenario is that a late frost killed the bear’s natural vegetation, sending them in search of other food sources. Typically, bears head to higher elevations once the oak brush starts bearing acorns, sometime in early August. However, the June freeze may have jeopardized this harvest as well, signifying a continued bear pres

ence. “The report we’re hearing is that the acorns have been spotty,” Lewandowski said. “All indications show this will continue to be a problem for the rest of the summer.”

Lewandowski said the bears’ hibernation feeding frenzy starts in mid-August and usually slows around Oct. 1. By November, they should be settling down for the winter. “We’ve got a while to go yet,” he said.

Lewandowski said the biggest thing residents can do between now and then is to secure trash and remove bird feeders. “The big message is, we can change our behavior, but bears can’t change theirs,” he said. “If we don’t provide that easy meal, they’ll move on.”

– Missy Votel

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