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Colorado bears with it

9/10/2007
AP Photo/E Pablo Kosmicki

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Ted Grenda is downright
inhospitable toward some of his neighbors, placing plywood strips
with nails along his doors and windows.

But wildlife officials say that makes him a good neighbor to the
black bears that share the mountains, especially this year, when a
late freeze and drought across the West have drastically reduced
their natural fare of berries and acorns.

The bears' search for food, intensifying as they bulk up for
hibernation, has driven the animals into towns to forage in garbage
bins, bird feeders and even inside homes like Grenda's, where
they've hauled off peaches and a 10-pound bag of sugar.

Dozens of the intruders have been hit by cars or killed by
wildlife officers.

That threat of a death penalty for offending bears is why Grenda
put up his home defenses, and keeps his garbage cans inside.

"What we have to understand is that we live in a wild area,"
said Grenda, a former mayor of this ski town.

Colorado wildlife officers have killed at least 30 black bears
this summer for having run-ins with people. Landowners defending
livestock and federal agents have killed 42 more, and 29 bears were
killed by vehicles. Bear mortality could rival 2002's record total
of 404. There have been at least 877 reports of human-bear
encounters this year, compared with 502 for all of last year.

Officers in the resort city of Aspen field 20 to 40 bear
complaints daily. Black bears are often seen digging in trash bins
outside the town's upscale restaurants and scavenging around
multimillion-dollar homes.

The problem has spread across the West.

Nevada's Department of Wildlife has received nearly 1,000 bear
complaints this year, compared with 350 last year. Five bears have
been killed. In the Lake Tahoe area, a record 20 bears have been
hit by cars.

Bear calls are up in Utah after a fatal attack on an 11-year-old
boy in a campground about 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Wildlife experts don't know why the bear dragged the boy away in
his sleeping bag.

A few cubs have been found wandering on their own, and Cary
Carron, a state district wildlife manager in southwest Colorado,
suspects mothers might be abandoning their young because they can't
feed them.

Some people have urged that the bears be fed. Others want a
longer hunting season, which can run from September to November,
depending on the license.

Wildlife officials reject feeding bears in time of drought,
saying that would artificially support a population that nature
cannot.

As much as trying to control the bears, animal control officers
have taken to educating people. They recommend simple steps such as
keeping garbage cans and pet food inside, latching trash bin lids
and not feeding bears to get pictures.

"People don't want to take steps to bearproof anything until
that bear is knocking on the front door," said Carl Lackey, a
Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist.

Some Colorado communities require bear-resistant garbage cans
and fine violators. The fine for a first offense in Pitkin County,
which includes Aspen and Snowmass Village, is $350, which can be
waived if people agree to buy the special garbage bins. The maximum
penalty is $1,000.

Snowmass Village animal control Officers Laurie Smith and Tina
White work with homeowners to string electric fences or put out
boards with nails. Bears are rarely injured by the nails because
they're careful where they step.

Vail police shoot paintball-like pellets packed with pepper to
chase away bears.

"They associate garbage with a snout full of pepper," said
police Sgt. Ryan Millbern. "Their sense of smell is 100 times more
sensitive than a human's and about seven times more sensitive than
a bloodhound's."

Yellowstone National Park, once known for traffic jams caused by
visitors stopping for panhandling bears, closed open dumps that
attracted bruins and cracked down on people leaving food out in
campgrounds.

The number of visitors injured by bears in Yellowstone is down
from an average of 45 yearly in the '60s to about one a year.

"We had to essentially train a new generation of visitors and a
new generation of bears," Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said.