Bear paws give pause

Albert Romero, left, a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and David Moreno, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, move a bear trap Thursday from the Island Acres section of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park to the north side of the river. A hungry black bear has prompted a temporary ban on camping in tents in the area.

Gary and Cindy Bowers of Loma weren’t too concerned about the recent bear activity at Island Acres park as they pulled up in their recreational vehicle Thursday.

After campers reported several sightings and run-ins with a black bear at the campground and at the day-use area in the past month, wildlife officials temporarily have banned campers from staying overnight in tents.

“I don’t think I’d want to stay in a tent knowing there’s a bear loose,” Cindy Bowers said as she settled into her campsite.

Seeing bears in the area happens on occasion. But wildlife officials are concerned because one black bear has become more brazen over the past few weeks, pushing on tents and placing its paws on campers, all in the search for food.

“We’re concerned it’s looking for an opportunity to get into a camper,” Park Manager Pete Firmin said.

“We’re being cautious. This bear hasn’t hurt anyone yet. We’re trying to address the problem before it occurs.”

About 80 campsites are located in the Island Acres section of the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park in De Beque Canyon off Interstate 70. Park officials only turned away one person Thursday who wanted to stay overnight in a tent. The temporary restrictions mean campers must sleep in a hard-sided vehicle, which could include the family car, a recreation vehicle or a camper.

Anyone with a current reservation at Island Acres who had planned to sleep in a tent can camp at the Fruita section of the park.

The bear was last seen in the area Tuesday night and it may be eating from a nearby orchard, Firmin said.

That it has been returning to the area after being shooed away by campers causes alarm, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras.

“The bear’s not after the people, it’s not a grizzly out to eat people,” he said. “They’re just investigating for the source of the food. If somebody accidentally corners one, it will react.”

Wildlife officials have set two traps for the bear. If it continues to elude the traps, officials may have to close the campground in the next couple days, Porras said.

“This bear has become increasingly active,” he said. “The fact that while people did shoo it away and it came back means it is losing its natural fear of humans. In most cases, the bear can be shooed away and hopefully you never see it again.”

A wet spring has created enough food in the high country for bears, Porras said. Seeing a bruin at Island Acres is a bit unusual because it is a desert environment; however, bears live all across the state.

“Our primary concern is we’re going to err on the side of caution,” Porras said. “We don’t want to overly alarm people. We encourage people to give wildlife a lot of space. Don’t feed or approach bears. Give them a lot of space.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a “two strikes you’re out” policy for bears. Officials trap and tag nuisance bears and relocate them.

But if the bear is trapped again, it is killed. Or, if a bear exhibits aggressive behavior, it can be put down immediately.

Bears typically begin to aggressively forage for food in the fall; the biological drive for them to fatten up for winter is called hyperphagia, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. A bear that usually eats about 8,000 calories a day needs to eat about 20,000 calories a day in the fall, the agency said.


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