Though Summit County residents and visitors are often drawn to the forested area by the potential for wildlife sightings, some forget they are in bear, moose, deer and elk territory while driving or securing their trash.
Local wildlife and police officers encouraged people to drive slower and store trash properly after drivers recently hit and killed three bears within 24 hours and bears have been reported getting into trash around Breckenridge.
A driver on Highway 9 near Blue River hit two bear cubs around 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and both died.
CPW Summit County officer Tom Davies said one cub was killed instantly, and the other was so badly injured that he euthanized it.
The cubs were “real little guys,” he said. They were born this spring and weighed about 25 or 30 pounds. He called it one of his worst days as a wildlife officer.
“I really dislike putting critters down because of people. Wildlife is always the thing that loses,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have time to stop, but most of the critters, it’s just because people are just not paying attention or speeding.”
Later that night, a 200- to 250-pound sow was hit and killed at the same spot, around mile marker 82, he said.
DRIVE WITH VIGILENCE
Neither driver stayed at the scene or called to report the dead animals, which Davies said is not legally required but is helpful for wildlife officers. He didn’t know about any vehicle damage.
Collisions with large animals not only threaten the wildlife, they also cost people thousands of dollars in car repairs, and sometimes the human drivers or passengers are the ones who end up dead.
Parks and Wildlife said drivers should stay vigilant, especially this time of year when the days become shorter, visibility worsens and animals are moving and migrating. Wildlife are most active around dusk and dawn and at night.
At night, “people outdrive their headlights,” Davies said, and even during the day, “slowing down would be huge.”
He said it seems more wildlife have been killed by vehicle collisions on that section of Highway 9 this year, including at least two moose and one elk.
On the other end of Summit, parts of Highway 9 north of Silverthorne and between Green Mountain Reservoir and Grand County are especially notorious for animal-vehicle accidents.
Around 30 years ago, Parks and Wildlife changed its policy to allow people to collect roadkill meat. First priority goes to anyone on scene, whether it’s the driver who hit the animal or a passerby who expresses a desire to take the meat home.
Those who find freshly dead deer or elk in the road can collect the carcass on the spot as long as they obtain a roadkill permit from Parks and Wildlife, state patrol or their local government within 48 hours.
People who stumble upon roadkill mountain lions, bears, bighorn sheep and mountain goats must call Parks and Wildlife first before moving the animal.
The agency salvages any trophy parts — hides, heads, paws, antlers — for an annual auction put on in the winter by the nonprofit Colorado Trappers Association and adds the money it makes from sales to taxidermists and the like to its general operating budget.
Davies and his partner officer Elissa Knox said when they find roadkill in Summit that isn’t spoiled or destroyed they contact people on an informal list who’ve asked to receive the meat.
FED BEARS ARE DEAD BEARS
Local bears are now in their hyperphagia stage, when they consume more than 20,000 calories a day to prepare for hibernation, and conflicts between bears and humans peak between August and December.
The Breckenridge Police Department announced on Thursday, Sept. 17, that officers have recorded a recent increase in bears coming to feed on garbage.
“This is unhealthy for the bears, problematic for the community and could result in a ticket for the homeowner,” the police announcement said, and once bears know where to find a non-natural food source they will return.
Bears found in trash or too close to humans are first scared away or tranquilized, trapped, tagged and relocated; the second time a bear becomes an issue it is killed. Bears who are aggressive or show no fear of humans may be put down immediately, an exception to the two-strike rule.
So far in 2015, the Breckenridge police have received 31 calls about wildlife. Thirteen were about bears, and of those, eight were bears in dumpsters. August was the month for the most calls, with seven.
The department gave 10 trash violation warnings in June and July and about 45 in August and September, opting to educate before giving citations or fines.
Davies said a late freeze and above-average spring and summer precipitation slowed plant growth, which has meant less natural food for bears this year.
Breckenridge residents or visitors with questions on trash rules can call the police department at (970) 453-2941, and a community service officer will come make sure the caller’s trash is compliant.
In an article in the Summit Daily published Sept. 23, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer Tom Davies said the bear cubs were hit and killed near Blue River earlier in the week and the mother was killed the next day. On Thursday, Sept. 24, he said he remembered the cubs were hit on Thursday, Sept. 17, and the sow was killed some time that night.