Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bears--Hikers beware?

For the past several years I have been hiking the Ramparts behind the Air Force Academy. I like it there because its close, generally I can to the base of each trail in 5 min, and because these trails are less traveled by others. I like to discover new routes, new trails new places to explore. A year ago my "girls" (my two dogs) took me up a new trail behind an area the Cadets do their Global Engagement exercise. There were signs that they were doing war games and camping out. We found one trail and started to follow it--who knows maybe we would run into another cadet built outpost or tree house. We went quite a ways, then I started to notice that the logs were splintered (were cadets chopping them up for some reason?). After stepping over one I found my answer--there was bear scat. It was filled with tin foil, bits and pieces of paper--probably paper plates. We were on a bear trail. My "girls" were more than happy to pick up the sent and continue--I was not so enthusiastic as the scat was fresh. Heading back we found this bears main food source--a large trash container outside the fenced compound. The grounds were littered with food items, wrappers, foil, cans--you name it. This was a bear feasting ground. Fast forward a year later. Same trail, only this time we pulled off and walked up a ridge and looped back. Same trash container--only this time it was locked down. The bear was not getting his dinner from that anymore. Just before the end of our good weather this September, I was walking the "girls" on a short hike down behind the firing range on an access road. We came across several fresh scats, some broken branches and some fresh trails through the high grass that had grown this summer with all the rain. I heard the thrashing of a tree off about 20 yards. We stopped. I then spied a bear about 7 feet tall stripping the limbs off of some tree (Male Black Bears can get up to 7 feet on their hind legs). We backed away. I was curious the next day, so headed back up the trail only to get some of these shots that our bear was no little Boo Boo or Yogi for that matter, He or She was huge. This was the imprint that was not there the day before. You can clearly see the claws on this sucker. This was about the size of my foot. We did some more scouting and hunting in the days and weeks to follow and found more evidence that our favorite trail is also the stomping grounds of a bear--or two--or three. We have been seeing fresh signs of scat, trails through the tall grass, and trees stripped of bark by claws. I included one such tree here that was pretty fresh. I have been seeing trees stripped or clawed like this for 2 years on this trail and wondered why bears do that. Well I finally looked it up in Harper's "The Complete Guide to North American Wildlife". I was curious if black bears could get so big (yes) and if this could be a Grizzly--in which case I would probably not use that trail anymore. Black bears claw trees to mark their territory from other bears, so we have been hiking in the middle of marked territory. Grizzles don't do this. There are Grissly bears in Colorado--but few and mostly up in the high country. So what are they eating and when they run out will we look like food? Well If you look at the scat you can see its is full of seeds. I did some more poking around and found some type of small black berries stripped off of their shrub--I think that's what they are eating. With the rain we have had this year the eating was good. They could not get into the trash can so went back to the basics. In the Spring and Fall we get out the bear bells and I now carry bear mace--but looking a the size of that bear and that claw, I am wondering if that is enough. So far I think they have been more scared of us than we have been of him--or her or they. We make a lot of noise on purpose. I find it encouraging that in Wikipedia it says "Like many animals, they seldom attack unless cornered, threatened, or wounded. It will also attack to protect its young. They are less likely to attack humans than grizzly bears and typically flee for cover as soon as they identify a human visitor. Deaths by black bear, though, are most often predatory, while the more numerous grizzly fatalities on humans are often defensive." Okay will have to remember that. In the mean time I know the signs now. Scat, clawed trees, fallen branches with berries, and now I know why we have been seeing so many "trails" through the tall grass--bears. You can just make out one of the trails in this last picture. I am thinking they are creatures of habit. Once they find some food source they like, they take the same path--why not? That's what I would do.

No comments: