After having to put down and relocate several hundred bears last year, Colorado wildlife officials fear another devastating year is ahead for the animals as they come out of hibernation and search for food for themselves and their cubs.
Already, a 1-year-old black bear had to be killed in late March after it twice broke into a home southeast of Colorado Springs, wildlife officials said. And two cubs were recently spotted near Ute Valley Park going through bird feeders, alarming residents.
"We had a real mild winter, but we haven't had much moisture at all over winter or spring so far," said Cody Wigner, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer who monitors the Colorado Springs area. "So, there's really nothing for them to eat.
Last year, a late freeze statewide wiped out much of the berries, acorns and other forage bears feed on, leading to 25 bears being euthanized in Colorado Springs, according to unofficial numbers provided by Parks and Wildlife spokesman Bill Vogrin.
Across the state in 2017, 216 bears were euthanized and 109 relocated, according to unofficial wildlife data. That's similar to 2014, which also had a massive food shortage, when 172 bears were put down.
In 2015 and 2016, 101 bears were killed by wildlife officers, according to the unofficial tally.
Bears usually come out between April and November, Wigner said, and they immediately search for food. But with a relatively dry winter and spring this year, the bears could hang around residences or enter garages and homes looking for something to eat.
In late March, a bear got into a home on Little Turkey Creek Road near Colorado 115 after it managed to twist a door handle, Wigner said. The wildlife officer said the bear's mom was likely the one hit and killed last year by a vehicle on Colorado 115.
It is believed a neighbor was feeding the bear last year.
"The bear had zero fear of humans," Wigner said. "We could not relocate that bear. Even though it's a young bear, it's only going to get nothing but bigger, which makes it more dangerous."
The bear was later caught by a bear trap and euthanized, the first of the year in the Colorado Springs area.
The large number of bears that were euthanized last year upset many people, who sympathized with a wild animal whose habitat has been encroached on by humans, or who thought the bears could be relocated instead of killed.
Colorado wildlife managers operate under what is incorrectly referred to as the "two-strike" policy. It states, "Any previously translocated bear that is currently judged to be dangerous because of its location shall be destroyed," state wildlife manager Kristin Cannon wrote in an online Boulder blog.
"Managing bears isn't a baseball game and we do not relocate and destroy bears as some form of penalty," she continued.
Bears are relocated only once because rarely is it successful, Cannon wrote.
"When we as the agency responsible for managing wildlife in Colorado are presented with situations in which individual wildlife pose an increased threat to human health and safety we have an overriding obligation to take reasonable action to prevent potential injury to people," she stated in the article.
Stories about bears foraging in homes are becoming more common. Last July, a large, male bear was killed by wildlife officers after it entered a home on Brandywine Drive in southwest Colorado Springs. The bear was caught on video spending about six hours gorging and roaming the house while the homeowner slept.
A month later, wildlife officials attempted to remove a bear and her two cubs from the Stratmoor Hills neighborhood after they were seen rooting through garbage. The sow was found in a tree and couldn't be removed without being tranquilized. She fell to her death when the tranquilizer failed to knock her out immediately and she climbed higher.
"In the Springs, you get sightings year-round because they have that year-round food source, which is trash," Wigner said. "Currently, it's not looking good."
Wildlife officials ask residents to keep their trash in a secured enclosure and only put it out on the morning of pickup, in addition to putting away bird feeders and closing their garage doors.
The Manitou Springs City Council voted unanimously last November to require residents d to use a wildlife-proof garbage bin or keep their trash indoors until collection day.
"We're really happy tonight, for the benefit of both bears and our community," Nancy Wilson, an organizer with the grassroots Bear Smart Task Force, said at the time. "We're tired, number one, of hearing about bears being euthanized."
Colorado Springs is exploring a similar policy for wooded areas on the city's West Side, where bear encounters are more common, City Council President Richard Skorman said in September.