A live trap has been set to capture the cinnamon-colored 3-year-old at the Morefield Campground so it can be relocated off national park land, said NPS wildlife biologist Paul Morey.
“This bear is having his way of the house and is showing habitual behavior towards people,” he said. “It hasn’t been aggressive, but it’s been in close proximity to people more than we want to see.”
In one case, a camper taking a shower in an RV was interrupted when the water stopped flowing. He looked outside and witnessed the cinnamon bear chewing on the water hose.
Last week, campers called 911 when a bear roamed into their campsite. They were cited for having unsecured food that attracted the bear. There have been reports of a bear brushing up against tents in the Morefield campground and tripping over tent tie-downs.
“Based on eyewitness accounts, we believe it is the same bear,” Morey said.
The problem bear could be seen from the road Thursday evening contentedly grazing in a meadow in the Prater Canyon area just past the tunnel.
Within minutes, a dozen vehicles had pulled onto both shoulders of the road.
The “Bear Jams” are a common occurrence at the park during the summer. But wildlife viewing is allowed from the roadway and is part of the park experience, Morey said.
At Prater Canyon, Geologic Point, and Wetherill Mesa, park officials respond to the wildlife traffic jams.
There is not a specific policy for wildlife viewing other than the standard do not feed, harass, shoot at, or come within 40 yards of wildlife. But officials caution the public to avoid pulling over on a blind corner and to be aware of traffic.
Because of a mild winter, survival rates for bears were good, increasing populations. Last year, park officials identified 12 separate bears, but they know there are more out there.
Bears seem to be in a prolific stage. Wildlife officials in Durango said there about 40 bears living near the city, but a survey later discovered it is more like 100 bears in that area. Bears that make it to Cortez, including one that had to be tranquilized last month near Main Street, likely come from Mesa Verde, Morey said.
Park officials haze bears with paint guns if they get too close to populated areas. It’s important to get them fearful of humans early on, or it is too late.
“Once they have a habit, it is hard to break,” he said.
Officials have missed opportunities to haze the bear, though it’s probably too late be effective at this point.
Drivers should be cautious in the tunnel because bears use it as a shortcut and to escape the heat.
Morey said rangers have been issuing more citations than usual to campers who leave unsecured food out.
If biologists capture a different bear, it will be relocated within the park. If it’s the cinnamon bear, it will be transported to the San Juan National Forest, probably the Glade area.