Trying to pack on the pounds before hibernation, bear activity is picking up in and around Durango.
“There’s definitely been an uptick in reports of bear incidents in the last week,” said Matt Thorpe, wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It’s what we expect this time of year: that surge of activity before bears go into hibernation.”
Every fall, bears enter “hyperphagia” – a voracious feeding period when bears eat as many as 15,000 to 20,000 calories a day as they try to fatten up before heading to their dens for the winter.
This feeding frenzy, however, brings many bears into towns or neighborhoods looking for easy foods left out by humans, namely in the way of unsecured trash.
In the past couple years, the city of Durango has delivered more than 2,000 bear-resistant trash cans to homes around town, while at the same time, instituting a $100 fine to residents who fail to lock their cans and a bear breaks in.
Steve Barkley, the city of Durango’s code enforcement officer, said it was a relatively quiet summer in terms of bear activity. In the last month, however, more residents are reporting bears rummaging through trash.
Barkley said Thursday morning he was on his way to issue the first citation of the year to a homeowner in downtown Durango who failed to properly lock a trash.
He noted some of the disturbed trash cans are experiencing issues with the latching mechanism. Residents won’t be fined if this is the case, and are asked to report broken trash cans to the city so repairs can be made.
La Plata County Animal Control enforces the county’s recently enacted trash ordinance aimed at curbing conflicts with bears. Travis Woehrel, director of Animal Protection, did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
The town of Bayfield is considering replacing its residential garbage cans with certified bear resistant cans. Town trustees are expected to vote on the matter, which would include a garbage rate increase, on Oct. 15.
Bryan Peterson, of Bear Smart Durango, said his group purchased 50 of the city of Durango’s old bear-resistant trash cans, which are being sold for $50 to residents for the use of livestock and chicken feed.
“People won’t spend $200 to store feed (the cost of a new can), but they will spend $50,” Peterson said. “And it’s much better than how people are storing feed right now.”
Barkley said he hasn’t heard too many reports of bears breaking into trash, yet Peterson said he’s heard otherwise from residents.
“People have been sending photos of bears getting into bear-resistant trash cans,” Peterson said. “It’s just a question of whether that’s user error (people not locking properly) or if there’s mechanical issues with the cans.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the city of Durango urge residents to report bear getting into trash.
From the city’s side, Barkley said officers can instruct residents to take corrective actions. And from Parks and Wildlife, Thorpe said, if reported early, wildlife officials can respond to the situation before it becomes worse.
“Usually it’s a simple issue with a simple fix,” Thorpe said. “But when problems continue, and we aren’t able to intervene, the bears become more dependent on human food sources, and that’s when we see more of the issues we want to avoid.”
Thorpe didn’t immediately have the exact number of bear euthanizations in the past year, though he said it has been low. Trappings and relocations, too, have been seldom. He said there was a slight uptick in bear issues around July 4, but that’s quieted down until the past few weeks.
Thorpe said bears usually enter hibernation in October, but also as late as November.
“It depends on the length of the days, but also a lot on temperature, for when Mother Nature tells them to go into their dens,” he said.