Hunger pangs rouse bruin from slumber
Written by Chris Parmeter, colorado parks and wildlife   
Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Yearling cub in custody

Bears hibernate, right? Well, they mostly do, but recently one little fellow has taken to running amok in the Gunnison Valley. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten several calls that the youngster, weighing in at a trim 30 pounds, has been spotted crossing Highway 135 near the Danni Ranch or loitering around the CDOT barn. His abnormal antics have us wildlife officials scratching our heads over what to do about the smallish bear.


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“This is definitely unusual behavior,” said Michael Sirochman as he took custody of the little imp Sunday afternoon. Sirochman is the head of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Frisco Creek Wildlife Center. While no one can be certain, Sirochman offered that perhaps the yearling didn’t have enough stored body fat to survive the winter in the den, and this triggered a signal that told him to go out and find food.
But finding food in January isn’t all that easy for a bear. In fact, they’ve evolved their habit of deep sleep specifically for that reason. Bears are opportunistic feeders, but make their living eating primarily plants, berries and insects; foods that are extremely scarce in the dead of a Gunnison Valley winter.
Aside from the slim pickings, being out and about at this time of year comes with other perils as well—the little bruin has been braving the near-record low temperatures while slogging through the winterland on his quest for food, and one resident near Jack’s Cabin witnessed the poor fellow being harassed by a pair of coyotes. The sympathetic Samaritan scattered the offending scoundrels with a gunshot, which allowed the wayward youth to escape into the woods along the East River.
The whereabouts of the little guy’s mother is unknown. “Normally, a bear this age would be denning with its mother,” Sirochman said. Young bears stay with their mothers about a year and a half, learning how and where to forage—and receiving her fearless protection from would-be antagonists, such as coyotes.
Last Saturday, I saw a chance to put an end to the young runaway’s follies and jumped at it. After checking with some fishermen at the Roaring Judy Ponds, my ride-along Tim Zant, a W.S.C.U Environmental Studies student, and I spotted the bear’s freshly laid tracks crossing through the hatchery grounds and knew he must be near at hand.
A moment later Tim spied the furry rogue and we promptly ran him up a 30-foot spruce tree to prevent his escape.
I radioed fellow district wildlife manager Nick Gallowich, who sped to the scene with capture equipment and a plastic dog crate to transport the little fellow in once he was wrangled from the tree.
The young upstart was taken into custody without incident, and is now one of Sirochman’s charges at Frisco Creek. He’ll be fed until his urge to roam wanes and his wanderlust gives way to sound slumber for the remainder of the winter. When the grass turns green and the flowers bloom, and there are plenty of ants to eat, the little bruin will be released back into the wild. Let’s keep him that way.