- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. (AP) — 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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 the 2002 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.

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.

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

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