When a tenacious female black bear trekked nearly 50 miles from the Wyoming state line back to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, this spring to give birth to triplets, she was in good company.
She rejoined a burgeoning population of black bears that live in or near Steamboat, and frequently pass through town to go dumpster diving, raid bird feeders and otherwise snag snacks.
For the most part the bears are tolerated. It’s educating people to not leave “food rewards” that’s proven to be the tough part of the wild bruins coexisting with humans, Christy Bubenheim of Colorado Parks and Wildlife told Cowboy State Daily.
“At any given time, there’s probably 10 or so bears” hanging around the fringes of Steamboat Springs, said Bubenheim, who runs “bear aware” education courses out of the CPW’s local office.
“The bears aren’t going anywhere,” she added.
‘She Was Trapped In A Dumpster’
The female black bear in question, tagged No. 1036, was trapped by wildlife agents and taken to a remote area near the Wyoming state line in September, she said.
The bear wasn’t directly threatening anybody, but had gotten herself into a pickle, Bubenheim said.
“She was trapped in a dumpster, so we had to tranquilize her to get her out of there,” Bubenheim said.
It’s not uncommon for bears to dumpster dive in Steamboat Springs because people don’t always trouble themselves to properly secure the garbage containers, she said.
“On any given morning you can drive through town and see dumpsters that weren’t secured properly and garbage scattered,” she said. “It’s just a disaster.”
The bear was taken into a remote, rugged area along the Wyoming border about 50 miles from Steamboat Springs, and wildlife agents hoped that she’d take to life in the backcountry.
But she was spotted in June back near town, where she had apparently denned and given birth to triplets.
“Once they learn that behavior and that there’s a food source, it’s common for bears to come back,” Bubenheim said.
Bubenheim said that when she first moved to Steamboat Springs about 20 years ago, seeing bears near town was rare.
However, over the years, a few started moving in, and some of them got “food rewards” from unsecured garbage, bird feeders, pet food left outside and the like.
“Now we have generations of food-conditioned bears,” Bubenheim said.
CPW tries to educate locals to avoid leaving tempting treats for bears within easy reach. There are plenty of natural food sources for black bears in the area, including grasses, wild berries and, in the spring, deer fawns and elk calves, she said.
When relocated bears come wandering back, CPW typically tranquilizes them, fits them with ear tags and lets them go about their business, Bubenheim said.
The agency, and the public, are generally tolerant of the bears, and there aren’t many reports of them being aggressive toward humans, she said.
It’s only when a bear enters a house or other occupied structure that tolerance runs out.
“We had to put four down so far this year because they were entering homes,” she said.
A similar situation developed in Big Horn near Sheridan. Wyoming Game and Fish Department agents killed a young black bear in June after it entered two houses and showed up on the front porch of a third.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.