DENVER (CBS4) – There is growing concern more bears than normal will show up in suburban neighborhoods this spring.
Drought conditions combined with hungry bears coming down from the high country make for a dangerous mix. Already two black bears have been captured from neighborhoods in the metro area — one in Boulder and the other in Federal Heights.
It’s a lot easier for bears to get into the suburbs than many people think. Canal drainage systems become a corridor for the bears to maneuver from the high country into backyards. Why they make their way down has everything to do with food.
In 2001, one bear galloped through yards, scaled fences and tall trees; even darted across the rooftops of Centennial homes. The folks who live in Cherry Knolls still talk about it.
“It was exciting,” Cherry Knolls homeowner Dawn Kalavity said.
“There were helicopters and police everywhere,” Cherry Knolls homeowner Tim Ratterman said.
When the 300-pound acrobatic bear made his way into the suburbs, Copter4 flew above the bear chase.
“The bear was scared. The people weren’t scared,” Ratterman said.
People perched rooftops trying to catch a glimpse of the bear. Children brought out their teddy bears for fun.
“We have wolves, we have snakes, but a bear? That’s funny. Actually, it’s not funny,” Cherry Knolls homeowner Mariella Warner said.
One of the most active bear seasons the Division of Parks and Wildlife experienced was in 2001. A repeat of that active season is predicted this year.
Just a few weeks ago an Adam’s County neighborhood got their first bear.
“Whoa, how could he get all the way over here?” witness Manuel Ramos said.
The bear darted around for 45 minutes, creating a big stir before he was tranquilized.
“I was wondering how it got all the way down here from up there. It’s just really strange,” witness Brian Trullinger said.
How bears get into the suburbs is part of the reason why Colorado is so beautiful. An example is the High Line Canal. Up the canyon the water diverts off of the South Platte River. That particular canal can take a bear through Denver and toward Denver International Airport. There are also drainage systems and open space areas that lead into the High Line Canal.
“They can cross a lot of country,” Jerrie McKee with the Division of Wildlife said.
McKee says if there aren’t good sources of forage for the bears in their habitat, they move down the canal with hungry stomachs.
“It’s not unusual for them to find these kinds of corridors to maneuver and then they get out and find themselves in major urban, metropolitan areas,” McKee said.
Along the Front Range there are an abundance of corridors for bears to travel — the High Line, South Platte, Turkey Creek, Bear and Clear creeks — just to name a few.
“Right now it’s not looking real good. We do have drought conditions over a lot of the state,” McKee said. “So we are anticipating this may be a really tough year for bears.”
Drought conditions have a detrimental effect on a bears normal food supply such as oak brush and choke-cherry.
People don’t expect a bear to come out of the riparian area, but when they do suburbs are littered with attractants — calorie-rich items lingering around a home like trash, dog and bird food.
“So you can imagine if a bear were to catch (the High Line Canal) and wander through town and hit almost any backyard and find an abundance of attractants and find itself in a lot of trouble,” McKee said.
A bear in the ‘burb might seem fascinating to some, but wildlife managers say there are so many potential dangers that the folks in Cherry Knolls remember all too well.
“It is scary because if you have grandchildren that are around the patio,” Warner said. “Sometimes the cuddly bear is not cuddly, really.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers say if a bear does end up in a neighborhood there are things residents should not do, like pursuing the bear and trying to get close to it to snap a picture. The more excited a bear gets, the more he runs and metabolism gets revved up along with adrenaline, it becomes very difficult to tranquilize.