Black bears roaming the streets are nothing new in Telluride. Even one of the town’s most popular hiking trails, Bear Creek Preserve Trail, and the nearby high-alpine four-wheel drive Black Bear Pass, are named after the familiar Ursus americanus. Summer season brings bears out of hibernation and into town. Once a black bear gets a taste of the Telluride lifestyle, it can be hard to chase the bear out of town.
The dumpsters behind the Liberty and the Old Sheridan Bar have each been ravaged recently. There is no way to confirm how many bears have been feasting on the town’s trash, but the Telluride Marshal’s Department estimates that more than one bear is the culprit. So far, code enforcement has gotten multiple calls from several residents reporting bear issues around town.
This year, a particularly large black bear has been the subject of quite a few sightings. This big bear has been caught on camera plundering neighborhood trashcans and breaking into people’s yards. A few nights ago, local resident Sheamus Croke had to chase the bear out of his yard. Croke was coming home and startled the bear that had been perusing the dumpsters in the alley. After spotting Croke, the bear ran away — into Croke’s yard. Croke estimated the bear was over 400 pounds.
Left in their natural habitat, black bears are omnivores and mainly graze on plants and insects. Around 90 percent of their diet is comprised of roots, berries, nuts and insects, according to the National Parks Service (NPS). Black bears also scavenge the carcasses of herbivores like deer and elk if they stumble upon deceased animals. Although black bears are not predominantly hunters, they do sometimes kill fawns or elk calves, particularly after emerging from hibernation when they have not eaten in months.
Due to the versatility of their diet, black bears are highly adaptive and “very opportunistic,” according to the NPS. This often causes them to become fond of human food and garbage. Especially around mountain towns, some black bears become frequent visitors to back alleys and dumpsters.
Particularly when people forget to secure their trashcans, bears become habituated to finding leftover food from humans. In bear habitats people always need to be vigilant, explained Joe Lewandowski, the southwest region communications officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
“Secure garbage, take down bird feeders, lock your vehicle doors, close ground floor windows of your house, and keep garage doors closed,” Lewandowski wrote in an email to the Daily Planet. “Bears should not be allowed to get comfortable around residences.”
The Town of Telluride has specific requirements for polycart trashcans, and the Telluride Marshal’s Department conducts regular inspections in the summer months to ensure that all residents are disposing of waste in “bear-proof” containers that are clean, locked and secure.
The Marshal’s Department checks the dumpsters around town every morning for signs of bear activity, according to officials. Once black bears get a taste of town, they become habituated to scavenging near residences and eateries. In Telluride, some are even able to open supposedly “bear-proof” latches on secured dumpsters.
Early August is prime feeding time for bears. As the days shorten and fall approaches, black bears enter hyperphagia. This leads to an increased appetite and a drive to find food wherever possible as bears get ready for hibernation.
“Bears are going into their period of feeding frenzy as they start packing on pounds in preparation for hibernation,” explained Lewandowski. “They’re moving a lot looking for food so people need to be extra vigilant about food attractants,” he added.
Although the CPW has not received many reports from the Telluride region concerning bear activity, Lewandowski encourages people to keep calling in to the Marshal’s Department if bears are spotted getting into dumpsters around town. People can also report “nuisance bears” to CPW or the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Department.
And for those videos and photos of bears around town? Lewandowski reminds people to be smart and keep their distance. If prompted, a black bear can easily outpace a human.
“Bears are wild animals and unpredictable. Never approach a bear, better to yell or throw things at it,” Lewandowski emphasized.
And finally, do not feed bears, or any other wildlife, around town or out in the wilderness.
“It is illegal and dangerous,” Lewandowski added.