Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bears…Oh, My!!!

With the winter thaw come reports of bear sightings throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. The sightings continue clear through the fall.

After sleeping for several months, black bears awaken with the spring and typically spend two weeks drinking water and warming up their bodies before they start eating normal amounts of food. Then a few of them invariably lumber into town in search of toothsome treats.

On a warm summer evening several years ago, a friend of ours left the patio door of her second-story condo open while she slept. She came into the kitchen the following morning to make coffee, and discovered a bear rooting through her fridge. (As you can imagine, she went to Starbucks for her coffee.)

2007 was a record year for bear/human conflict in the Roaring Fork Valley. A June frost, followed by a hot and dry early summer, killed off the bears’ natural food supply, leading them to raid residential trash cans and refrigerators, and fruit trees in downtown Aspen. Twenty-five of the critters were tranquilized and relocated.

As a rule, the animals are not aggressive—they’re certainly not man eaters. But they’re hungry. And big. Expert estimates of the weights of the bears seem to vary widely. Conservative measurements put the average weight of the animals at around 300 pounds. However, the degree of sexual dimorphism exhibited by the species makes accurate accounts difficult. The largest black bear recorded was a male shot in Wisconsin in 1885. The bear was 802 pounds, far heavier than would be expected.

Following are a few safety tips:

It’s best not to hike alone. Bring a partner with you. If you do chance upon a bear, don’t run. If you can’t help yourself and feel you must bolt, be sure you’ve chosen a hiking partner who runs slower than you. (Get it? Runs slower than you?)

But seriously, folks…

When hiking, it’s a good idea to wear little bells on your wrist. The sound of the bells will alert a bear that you’re coming.

It’s also prudent to bring pepper spray, in the event you come face to face with one.

Most importantly, learn to recognize the difference between baby bear scat (poop) and adult bear scat. Baby bear scat generally has berries and small tufts of fur in it. Adult bear scat has little bells and pepper spray in it.

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