So far this summer, wildlife officials have already had to euthanize 20 bears in the Pitkin County part of the Roaring Fork Valley in Colorado following encroachment into populated areas. At least four years have passed since this many bears had to be euthanized. Aspen police have already received 140 calls related to bears in June and July as of last Monday.

The bears are clearly out in full force. Some are learning how to break into vehicles and homes. There was a period of time in mid-June when a sow and three cubs broke into more than a dozen vehicles in Snowmass Village, according to Mike Porras, public information officer for the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife (DPW).

The reason for all of this activity comes down to a number of factors, a few of which could possibly be linked to this year’s warm weather. Porras said drought conditions this winter and spring resulted in weak snowpack, which may have brought bears out of hibernation earlier than usual. This, in turn, may be affecting the bears’ natural diet.

Officials believe this change is what has led to more vehicle break-ins, but no official report or study confirms the suspicion.

Otherwise, a larger population of bears is putting more of the animals in the public eye. As the population grows, so does the number of animals habituated to human food.

“Although we have seen a recent uptick in calls throughout the city, we are reminded that during 2010 and 2011 we had nearly perfect natural food source years, while this year is vastly different due to the drought,” said Blair Weyer, police department spokeswoman to Aspen Daily News. “Thankfully, the compliance with local trash ordinances has been very high this summer, helping to curb this issue.”

Bears have a knack for prying open access points to trash cans and therefore adequately locking all trash containers is crucial. If residents leave their trash bins unsecured, bears easily learn to open them and teach the behavior to their cubs.

Porras said it’s difficult to know what impact the dry conditions have had on serviceberries, acorns and other main food sources for bears yet, but recent rain is highly welcome.

Image from anoldent on the flickr Creative Commons

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