Many reasons for the bear buzz

Apparently, bears have replaced the strange summer weather, politics and even the debatable worthiness of plastic bags as the most popular dinner table conversation.

“What’s with all these bears? They were never this bad when I was a kid!”

“Did you see the look that bear gave me yesterday? It was like he owned the place!”

They have also become the source of jokes:

“How many bears does it take to turn over a trash can?”

“Three: one to turn it over, and the other two to smile at the camera.”

While I am no expert on our local ursine inhabitants – Bear Smart Durango and Colorado Parks and Wildlife fill that role – I, too, have noticed that the number of bears passing through my north Durango property has risen sharply this year. Never knowing why animals do what they do (e.g., our new dog, Max, who is deathly afraid of the other dog staring back at him in his water bowl), I have some conjectures as to why they are roaming our streets:

The most obvious is the ever-confusing, baffling and oddly disturbing resident who leaves his trash-filled container out in the open. Yes, I realize that not everyone has a secure place for his or her trash can. Luckily, you can get a wildlife-resistant can and greatly reduce the chance that you will be cleaning up garbage (or in the case of my neighbors, I’ll be cleaning up the garbage you consistently ignore) throughout the non-hibernation seasons. It’s $4 a month to have one, and in the world of comparing everything to the price of a cup of coffee, that’s one skinny latte with half cream, half soy and two Splenda a month.

Bryan Peterson with Bear Smart Durango mentioned to me that he noticed less acorn and berry production in the higher elevations. While this is a generalization (microclimates abound in our area), the lack of food may have driven some of the bears to the urban fringe and then into our communities.

Now, add in this year’s tree fruit cornucopia like no other recent tree fruit cornucopia, and it is easy to understand why the bears aren’t leaving. Typically, fruit trees don’t have a harvestable crop every year. Late spring frosts and freezes usually kill at least of a portion of the blossoms. But this year – remember to take into consideration microclimates – found almost all fruit trees with a bumper crop. Apricots, cherries, plums, pears, peaches and apples (and bears, oh my!) weighed down the branches of hundreds of trees. Easy access equals easy picking.

Will this be a yearly occurrence? Who knows? But I don’t remember this many bears in town when I was a kid, and now, one-half block from Main Avenue, I see bears multiple times a week and remnants almost daily.

So if you can, pick your fruit. Preserve it. If you can’t use all of it, put an ad in the “Free” section of the Durango Herald, try to pair up with someone who doesn’t have access to fruit trees or donate the bounty.

In 2013, Colorado State University Extension will have a bulletin board on our website listing fruit trees for-the-picking in our area. That way, local residents, college students and even livestock, can enjoy the literal fruits of both summer and fall.

And the bears can stick to their acorns. or 382-6464. Darrin Parmenter is director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office.