- Associated Press - Saturday, November 15, 2014

SILT, Colo. (AP) - For the bears of the Roaring Fork Valley, the last two years have been the epitome of the phrase “feast or famine.”

Natural food sources were abundant in 2013, making for a very quiet year in terms of problems with bruins. They simply didn’t have to follow the siren song lent by unsecured trash bins and garbage to fatten up for a winter’s slumber.

What a difference one year makes.

A late spring frost devastated the serviceberry and chokecherry crops in 2014, and the Roaring Fork Valley has once again seen large numbers of bears venturing into towns, where conflicts can arise.

Because the bears gorged on the abundant food sources in 2013, sows produced more cubs than usual this year, leading to a new generation of offspring that have struggled to fatten up for hibernation.

Many young bears have been abandoned by sows that can’t find enough food, leaving these young bruins to face starvation.

But a few of the lucky ones get a reprieve, and are cared for by the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation at its Western Colorado Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center in Silt.

Nanci Limbach, who is the executive director, founded the rehab center in 1984.

In 1991, she helped form the foundation, which is named after her grandmother, who was “an active advocate for wildlife conservation.”

The center serves Garfield, Mesa, Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Rio Blanco counties, but also takes in wildlife from all over the state for care and rehabilitation.

It’s also licensed to handle all wildlife species including federally listed, and threatened and endangered wildlife, but specializes in bear and mountain lion rehabilitation and release. There are currently 40 licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers in Colorado.

With the poor amount of food sources available to bears this year, 21 have found refuge at the center.

If an orphaned cub is found by wildlife officials, it’ll likely be put down rather than be left to starve to death.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife District Ranger Kevin Wright said the wildlife rehab center is a good resource for bringing cubs to health and releasing them back to the wild.

“We get to take cubs to the facility so they don’t have to be put down. This gives them a chance. We place them in the artificial dens and let them sleep and hopefully they can come back out and just be bears,” he said.

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