Bears out and about in Durango
First-time trash offenders will have to buy bear-resistant can

Bears out and about in Durango

It’s happening earlier and earlier every year. At the start of the new millennium, the black bears living around Durango typically started emerging from their winter dens around mid-April. Today, bears are coming out of hibernation in mid-March.

Wildlife officials from around the Southwest have been noticing the trend for years. “When we first started tracking this (around 2000), the earliest reports were mid-April,” Bryan Peterson, executive director of Bear Smart Durango, said.

Over the past decade and a half, bears have been entering their dens later and coming out earlier. With the climate in Colorado expected to get warmer in the years ahead, Peterson added, it’s likely the trend will continue.

When a bear’s hibernation is shorter it not only throws off the timing when it comes to food availability, it can expose them to more human/bear conflicts.

Most female bears were in their dens by the fall of 2017, but many male bears stayed out until late in the season, including one young male who was spotted throughout the winter months, ap- parently skipping sleep altogether.

Because of the late feeding frenzy and constant sightings, the Durango City Council decided to enact an emergency ordinance, increasing the fine for leaving trash out and unsecured. Under the new ordinance, residents no longer got an initial warning if they failed to comply with the city’s regulations on trash and wildlife. What they did get was a $100 ticket for the first offense and $200 ticket for any additional offenses.

Last month, the Council decided to keep the ordinance in place for good and begin a new program to distribute bear-resistant trash cans to city residents living in hot-spot areas. Following the Council meeting Tuesday night, another piece was added. Residents who are caught with trash tossed about by wildlife will now be required to purchase a self-locking trash can at a cost of $100 for the initial delivery fee, and $4 per month until the $220 cost of the can is paid off.

Wildlife researchers have found that bear-resistant containers make a big difference, even cutting the number of conflicts in half in neigh- borhoods that have – and use – bear-resistant cans properly. “There’s plenty more to do, but those are huge first steps,” Peterson said.

Besides making sure trash is secured either inside the home or in a bear-resistant container, Peterson said removing birdfeeders or making them inaccessible to bears is another way to be Bear Smart. Birdfeeders can often be a gateway to human food. Once a bear finds it, they’ll start to feel more comfortable being around humans and their homes. The next time they look for human food, it could be a little closer to home.

Last year, there were 1,486 bear sightings and incidents reported in the area and 985 of those involved trash. Also, of the 36 bears that were killed in La Plata County, 17 involved bears inside homes or attempting to break into homes.

Peterson recommended residents remove any food or trash from vehicles, and keep doors and windows closed and locked whether it’s the car, home or garage. For more tips and preventative meas- ures, go to