Depending on where you are in the Rockies this year, the annual summer bear season could mean black-bear sightings in your front yard or a near-death experience while looking through the jaws of a hungry bear.
Already, the list of bear attacks across the Rockies this summer is beginning to mount.
On Saturday morning, a bear attacked a homeless man sleeping in Durango near the Animas River. The man survived, but the bear didn’t after Colorado Division of Wildlife officials turned their guns on it after the attack. A necropsy of the bear’s carcass was completed at CSU.
Last Thursday, a bear broke into a home in Bailey, southwest of Denver, biting a man.
Other bears have been sighted plundering porches and backyards in Livermore and Rist Canyon.
In the past month, bears have turned outright hostile in New Mexico, where they’ve developed an affinity for tents and a taste for the people sleeping in them.
“They’re coming down and acting kind of aggressive right now,” said Dan Williams, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
New Mexico wildlife officials killed a bear at the end of June after it jumped on a tent and took a swipe at the man sleeping in it at Philmont Boy Scout Ranch, a 137,000-acre camping and backpacking ranch just south of the Colorado state line west of Raton.
There were two more incidents there: The same day, another bear was found with a goat in its mouth, and a Philmont staffer killed it. On Wednesday, a bear bit a 14-year-old Boy Scout through his tent, leaving a deep gash in his head.
“It kind of peeled back the scalp there,” Williams said.
Both campers who were attacked were carefully following strict bear-safety protocols in place at Philmont, he said.
Those incidents followed another in June when a bear swatted a man tent-camping in the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.
But all the ursine nastiness in some parts of the West doesn’t mean there’s anything unusual going on this year, particularly in Colorado and Wyoming.
Bear activity is quite normal throughout Colorado, DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.
The bears’ habitat is normal and healthy, he said, and there is no sign of increased bear sightings or attacks in any localized area, he said.
“We haven’t noticed anything that is different than we’ve seen in years when there’s decent, natural food,” said Ken Wilson, a professor of wildlife and conservation biology at Colorado State University.
“A bear has been into some trash cans in Rist Canyon,” he said. “One bear can decide it’s going to get into something, (but) it’s not all of them.”
Few bears have been seen at all in southern Wyoming, where wildlife officials consider black-bear habitat and natural food supply excellent, said Al Langston, spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.
In New Mexico, dry weather hurt the bears’ food supply and dried out the forbs and grass that usually get black bears through the spring.
The lack of food there is so dire that this year’s number of bear attacks hasn’t been seen in New Mexico for almost a decade, Williams said.
There are plenty of things homeowners and backcountry adventurers can do to keep bears away.
For people camping in the mountains, store food in bear-resistant containers away from your sleeping area, Wilson said.
The best way to keep plundering bears away from homes is to keep birdseed, trash and other potential food sources inside where bears can’t have easy access to them, Baskfield said.
“There’s no reason to feed birds this time of year” because natural bird food is plentiful, he said.
And, he warned city dwellers, just because you might live in Fort Collins doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your home bear resistant.
“We get bears who wander into Fort Collins on a regular basis,” he said.