Is being fire wise also being bear smart?

It was a bit weird sitting down last week to write a column about bears with seemingly the entire region being on fire. With sympathies extended to all affected and praise for the firefighters, here goes, anyways.

Despite not being nearly as bad as expected, bear activity has ticked rapidly upward of late. Although clearly not the most scientific of indicators, bear sighting and incident reports jumped sharply the last few weeks, following a prolonged stretch of hot and dry weather.

The most unusual report was the instance of a bear jumping out of a Dumpster as a county resident went to toss in trash – thus making yet another case for why residents should consider bear-proofing their trash. Somewhat humorous? No doubt. Could have easily gone in an unfortunate direction? Definitely.

By the Fourth of July, there had been 244 bear sighting and incident reports so far this bear season, 190 coming in the last month. (By the way, reports are not indicative of the number of bears, as multiple reports may arise from individual animals.) Of the 244 reports, 170 were bears getting into trash, 159 from within city limits. Trash in town continues to be easy pickings for bears, despite a city ordinance established to prevent such a thing.

We’re not expected to get much reprieve from this hot, dry weather, which means the green-up (grasses, flowers and other vegetation) that bears feed on at this time will continue drying up. A couple of really good storms would help, but when they’ll arrive is anyone’s guess. With drought conditions and a frost at higher elevations last month, the production of fall natural foods (acorns and berries) is, unfortunately, highly suspect. It’s looking to be a pretty tough time for bears.

A recent article in The Durango Herald mentioned how homes in East Canyon where residents took good, proactive defensive fire prevention measures were the quickest and easiest for firefighters to save from the Weber Fire. Not to compare the two, by any means, but the parallels of being FireWise and Bear Smart were immediately obvious. Both involve taking proactive steps necessary in preventing something bad from happening, either losing your home to fire or possibly having a bear in your home.

How can you be more Bear Smart? Trash is by far the biggest reason we have bears around, as it’s been in all the other Colorado communities that have dealt with bear issues. Trash containers should be stored in your garage and taken curbside only on the morning of collection. If you lack a garage, you should consider getting a bear-resistant container, available from the city of Durango at $4 a month by calling 375-5004. La Plata County residents need to contact their waste provider.

It’s nearly impossible to feed birds without feeding bears, so it’s best to simply not have bird feeders up at this time of year. If you must, feeders should be hung 10 feet out of the reach of bears, brought in nightly and all fallen seed cleaned up.

Bp@frontier.net. Bryan Peterson is director of Bear Smart Durango, formed in 2003 to educate residents about safely and respectfully coexisting with bears and to advocate for policy changes. For more information, visit www.bearsmartdurango.org.