Vigilance Urged in Wake of Increasing Reports – Bears Entering Cars, Homes

Reports of bear sightings and occasional bear-caused damage are on the increase in and around Lake City in recent weeks, timed to the animals’ ramping up of feeding prior to this winter’s hibernation.
According to local Parks & Wildlife officer Lucas Martin, black bears are ravenous in late summer/early fall as they need to consume upwards of 20,000 calories per day prior to entering their hibernation phase for the winter.
“Calorie intake,” he explains, “directly equates to winter survival for bears. The more they find, the better it is for hibernation.”
Martin says that he has been receiving reports of bears and bear damage on a weekly basis, starting off with just a few reports and steadily increasing into August and September.
Martin says that following complaints of roaming bears, both in daylight hours and nocturnal visits through town, he has resorted to hazing the offending bears by firing non-lethal bean bag rounds and rubber buckshot.
By repeatedly frightening the animals, he is attempting to push the black bears out of town and up into their more traditional high country terrain.
Martin reiterates that the solution is for local residents to always secure their trash, close windows and doors, and lock car doors.
Based on personal observance and reports from area residents, Martin feels six or seven bears are operating in the immediate Lake City area. Bear sightings in recent days include a mother sow bear and cubs, several yearling bears and other bears who are two to three years old, all intent on adding calories while visiting in town on a frequent basis.
“Unfortunately, during the course of the past year, these bears have learned from experience after finding easy food sources in a variety of locations.”
Bears are quick learners, he adds. In instances where they have successfully found food in cars, “they’ll remember and test other vehicles regardless of whether the car has anything edible in it.”
Martin advises Lake City homeowners and visitors that there is no end if sight: the present bear feeding frenzy will continue on into the fall until the bears begin to enter hibernation.
Easy food in these instances include garage doors which are inavertantly left open, pet food on porches, and food items which have been left in unlocked vehicles.
During the past week, Martin says bear complaint calls which he is receiving have levelled off, leading him to believe that people “understand what they need to do” in not attracting bears into town. As an added precaution and in order to alert out-of-town visitors over the just concluded Wine and Music weekend, Martin says his supervisor, J Wenum, in Gunnison, arranged with Colorado Dept. of Transportation for the lighted Bear Beware billboard which makes a noticeable impact on the north entrance to Lake City near Chambers’ Country Store.
The lighted message board was borrowed from CDOT in Denver and brought to Lake City through the efforts of local supervisor R.E. Hall.
The sign continually flashes three bear-aware messages, declaring “Heavy Bear Activity,” followed by messages urging local residents and visitors to “Secure Food & Trash,” and, finally, “Lock Homes & Cars”.
The message came a bit late for Ball Flats resident Sandy Hines who discovered that the interior of her 2007 Subaru Outback had been virtually demolished by a bear early Friday morning, September 15. Hines says there was no food left in the car, although the car doors were left unlocked while parked in the home driveway.
She surmises that the bear may have been attracted by the lingering odors of a hamburger which she had carried in the car several days earlier.
The marauding bear, however, was intent to enter the Subaru, first using its paws to open the cardoor latch, entering and then becoming trapped when the door shut. In its urgency to get out of the car, the bear ripped seats and ceiling, literally tearing off interior side panels on the front passenger, rear seat and cargo areas of the car before finally extricating itself.
Also left as a momento of the visit, other than the destroyed interior, were a series of muddy bear prints on the outside of the vehicle.
In addition to Hines, several other local residents have reported damage to their vehicles and home entry by bears. In some instances the bears have entered and left without causing damage, but in other instances — like Hines — extensive damage was the result.