A death sentence isn’t typically the penalty for breaking and entering, but that may be the punishment for a few bears around La Plata County in an unusually active season for human-bear conflicts.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said four traps have been set to capture a handful of bears that have exhibited aggressive behavior, mostly breaking into homes in Rafter J and Edgemont Ranchsubdivisions.
“We don’t like traps unless we are concerned about human health and safety,” Lewandowski said. “We’ve had no euthanizes yet, but it’s likely that if these bears are caught, they would be euthanized.”
“It’s a case-by-case basis.”
On Tuesday, Geoff Reynolds, who has lived near Lake Durango for nearly 10 years, said he awoke to find a bear had broken into his house through a door that was closed but not locked, and rummaged through an indoor trash can and freezer.
“It was quite alarming,” Reynolds said. “It just so happens this door with force can be pushed open, and obviously he nudged hard enough. There’s a deadbolt on there now.”
With above-average snowpack this winter, Bryan Peterson, of Bear Smart Durango, said one would have expected abundant vegetation in the wilderness and minimal human-bear conflicts.
However, the recent dry spell in June has likely caused plants and grasses that bears rely on to dry up and lose nutritional value. And the acorns and berries that are a major staple of bears diet won’t be available until August.
As a result, reports of bear activity have notably increased compared to the last several years, and have spanned the entire county, Lewandowski said.
“We haven’t kept track of the exact number, but it’s been dozens,” he said.
Peterson, too, said he can’t recall the last time he’s received this many reports of bear activity, which include breaking into houses, cars or garages, getting into trash and taking down bird feeders.
Still, Peterson said many of those conflicts could be drastically reduced if people remove attractants for bears.
“How much of bear activity currently being due to natural food conditions as opposed to there being a fair number of food-conditioned bears accustomed to obtaining trash, bird feed, domestic fruit, chickens and more, is debatable,” he said.
Representatives with Durango Police Department and La Plata County Sheriff’s Office could not immediately be reached for comment on this story, so it’s unclear how many reports there have been of complaints and citations related to bears this year.
However, Lewandowski offered a few tips for residents that could help reduce those conflicts.
He said many reports this year have been a result of residents leaving their garage, screen doors and windows, open. He suggested closing and locking them.
Lewandowski also said all attractants should be removed from vehicles, and that car doors should be locked overnight. People should put out the garbage for pick-up only in the morning, and are strongly encouraged to use bear-proof cans.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife concluded after a six-year study on human-bear conflicts on select area around Durango that issues will continue to rise as the state’s population continues to expand.
A December 2015 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report showed human-bear conflicts are growing 4 percent a year, twice as fast as the state’s population.
So it’s imperative that residents take steps so that bears do not become accustomed and habituated to having access to human food, Peterson said.
“Our relative inaction in making human foods, and namely trash, unavailable to bears is most likely a primary cause of active bears,” Peterson said. “With continued growth, and tepid preventative measures, it would be hard to argue that bears have access to less trash now than prior to the implementation of ordinances, starting in 2008, and meant to reduce the amount of trash available to bears.”