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Bear sightings in Dolores prompt sheriff patrols

Sheriff warns residents to secure trash
A black bear with a silver-colored back climbs the rocks above the Dolores River in January.

Montezuma County sheriff’s deputies are on the alert for bears in downtown Dolores after residents reported seeing one two weeks in a row.

Residents said they spotted a bear rummaging through dumpsters on Central Avenue early in the morning on July 19, and Sheriff Steve Nowlin reported scaring one away from the same area the night of July 25. The first night, the bear left a mess in its wake, knocking over about 20 trash bins and spilling trash into the road. Nowlin said the local black bears often go after trash in the town during the fall, just before their hibernation, but it’s unusual to see them this active in the summer.

“It makes you wonder if we’re going to have an early winter,” he said.

Joe Lewandowski, the Southwest public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said a late frost in June killed many of the acorns and berries that bears rely on for food. He also said an increase in the human population of some bear habitats could be partly to blame for the early sightings.

“More people live here than in the past,” he said. “We’re seeing more bears because there are more eyes out there.”

Both Dolores bear sightings were at night, just before the town trash pickup on Wednesday morning. Nowlin said that when bears’ natural food sources become scarce, they often go after dumpsters and bird feeders. He said Dolores residents can avoid visits from the animals by bringing feeders inside at night and waiting until morning to take out the trash.

“The bears know that Dolores is a buffet,” he said. “There is no problem with bears outside of town. ... We need to keep them wild and keep them out of town.”

Lewandowski also recommended residents wash their garbage cans when possible to get rid of any extra odor, and avoid keeping any food on porches or in cars.

So far, the bears haven’t been reported near people or pets, and Nowlin said he wants to keep it that way. He said he has started patrolling the town himself on Tuesday nights whenever there isn’t a Dolores deputy on duty, in order to “haze” any bears he sees. “Hazing” can take many forms, but on July 25, Nowlin was able to drive off the bear by shooting it with rubber bullets. He said the idea is to make it “as uncomfortable as possible” for the animals to seek out food within town limits.

Several conflicts between bears and humans have been reported across Colorado this summer, including some in the Durango area, where four bears were either shot by homeowners or euthanized by Wildlife Services earlier in July. Nowlin said he wants to avoid incidents like that in Montezuma County. He plans to start a bear safety education campaign for county residents and visitors, in conjunction with CPW’s “Bear Aware” campaign.

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