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Warm winter means early bear sightings 

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While hiking in Phantom Canyon last weekend, I came across some fresh bear scat, and it struck me that it seemed to be pretty early in the season for bears to be out of hibernation.

As it turns out, I was right, to a degree. According to Corey Adler, a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the unseasonably warm weather has already brought some black bears out of hibernation in the lower elevations of Colorado, "maybe two or three weeks early."

In fact, CPW had to capture and relocate a male bear away from a residential area about a month ago.

While black bears wake up and come out when the weather is warm earlier than usual, they will also go back into hibernation if another cold snap comes along. The same warm weather and longer hours of daylight that bring us humans outside are just as enticing to bears.

According to Adler, last year's wet weather resulted in a "mass" of acorns and other natural bear food that kept the bears from looking for food around homes and businesses. The excess has lasted into this year, so bears aren't having a problem finding food so far.

"Right now, [food is] not a problem", Adler says.  "When they first wake up, they know there's not a lot of fruit and veggies out, and they're eating a lot of grubs and roots and tubers and stuff in the ground, and doing a lot of digging to get a starch."

However, Adler says if the lack of moisture continues, it could have a greater impact on the animals' food supply throughout the season.

"We'd love to have another mass producing year with acorns...but that doesn't usually happen two years in a row, " Adler says.

Typically speaking, bears will not come into towns and neighborhoods for food unless their natural food supply dwindles and people become careless. People can take some simple steps to keep urban bear encounters to a minimum: don't put out your trash the night before trash pickup, don't leave dog food, or large amounts of bird seed outside, and remember, it's illegal to lure large game, which obviously includes bears.

As for human/bear encounters, they're actually rather rare. For the thousands of miles I've hiked over the years, I've actually only seen a bear once, and it couldn't get away from me fast enough. Bear encounters are so easy to avoid that even just walking through the forest making noise — either by talking with your fellow hikers or just tramping along the trail — will typically be enough to keep bears away from you. On the rare chance you do encounter a bear, and it's not already running away from you, conventional wisdom says to make a lot of noise (I carry a whistle) and to make yourself look big by holding your arms up with your hiking poles, and backing away.  Never go anywhere near bear cubs and never get between a cub and a mother bear.

For more information, you can pick up a copy of CPW's "Living with Bears" brochure at the regional office at 4255 Sinton Road in Colorado Springs.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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