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Bears in Dolores getting into trash

One bear was euthanized in June; public urged to save bears by locking trash cans
This bear was trapped in the Summit Ridge area in June for being a nuisance and was relocated to more remote wildlands. (Courtesy Andy Brown, Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

A bear that got into unsecured trash cans and dumpsters last month in Dolores had to be euthanized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.

“It is sad and could have been prevented if people would do the right thing and use the bear-proof devices that are legally required,” he said.

Now another bear getting into trash could face the same fate if people don’t follow the law.

Nowlin said in the last three weeks, citations have been issued to four Dolores residents and a restaurant for failing to utilize bear-proof devices on trash cans and dumpsters.

The fines are up to $499, and the amount is determined by a judge.

The problem bear was trapped on June 23 by Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Merritt Way and put down. This was the second time it has been seeking food from residential sources, said Adrian Archuleta, Durango area wildlife manager.

“It is the worst part of our job to put down a bear for being hungry,” he said. “It is good reminder to the public to do their part to prevent attracting bears. We have had a number of calls from the Dolores area.”

Days before being trapped, the adult bear was suspected of getting into trash cans, and might have been the one seen scurrying through neighborhoods and yards, including on Merritt Way, Riverside Ave., and South Sixth Street, said district wildlife officer Andy Brown.

CPW has a two-strike policy for euthanizing problem bears. The first strike, it is captured, and a tag is put in each ear, plus an electronic pit tag is inserted under the skin on the head.

The bear put down recently had been trapped June 7, 2020, in the Dolores area. It has been getting into livestock pens, and had killed some chickens east of Dolores along the river corridor.

The bear was relocated to the northern glade area near the remote Disappointment Valley rim that is far from any home.

“Generally they stay there because it is very good bear habitat,” Brown said. “Unfortunately we were not able to change this bear’s behavior.”

Now another bear has been getting into trash in Dolores, Nowlin said Wednesday.

It was in the dumpster at Hillside Apartments when a woman threw her garbage in. She heard a growl, ran to her car, locked the doors and called 911.

There were reports of it in town over the July 4 weekend.

The bear also got into the dumpster at a gas station, and at a residence on North 14th Street. The resident was issued a summons.

The Hillside Apartments dumpster was left open after it was emptied by a trash truck. The trash company and residences were informed to ensure the doors stay closed, which prevents bear access.

The gas station case is pending, Nowlin said.

The sheriff has been giving warnings for three years, and this year began issuing summonses if a bear gets into trash cans not secured by bear-proof devices.

Nowlin patrols Dolores at night to haze bears with rubber bullets.

At 3 a.m. Wednesday, he hazed the bear getting into trash on North 14th Street. It fled down Road U.5 and then up a draw. It does not have an ear tag.

“Hopefully he got the message,” Nowlin said.

Besides bear-resistant trash cans, the public is also encouraged to reduce bear attractants, such as bird feeders, barbecue grills, dog food, fallen fruit and hummingbird feeders. Check out the CPW website for more information at https://cpw.state.co.us/bears

Brown said ideally, bear-proof containers should be certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. He said the cable lock system in Dolores is helpful in deterring bears, but bears may still figure out how to get inside.

Bird feeders should be closely monitored when used, and not left full overnight. CPW advises putting a tarp underneath them to catch the seeds so they can be discarded and not left on the ground as an attractant.

The natural food for bears, including the acorn, serviceberry and chokecherry crops are looking good for the season, CPW said.

CPW encourages the public to report bear sightings to (970) 247-0855 so they can keep track of incidents and wild populations in general.

There can be a misconception and worry that calling CPW about a bear too close to residents, or in the trash, automatically results in the bear being killed, Archuleta said.

That is not the case, Archuleta said. By intervening early a problem bear’s behavior can be corrected by hazing or relocation. A site visit by a wildlife officer is effective, and identifies bear attractants so they can be removed or reduced. Taking action to avoid attracting bears saves them and protects the public.

Brown said the longer a bear associates human habitation with food, the more difficult it is to change its behavior back to natural food sources.

“Bears are fairly common in the Dolores area, but we want them to move through and not associate the town as a food source,” he said. “The younger ones tend to get in trouble, taking more risks similar to teenagers.”