This summer, bears are finding new sources of food among the thousands of energy industry employees who work and, in some cases, live in prime black bear habitat.
"Trash storage and trash disposal at man camps is the biggest issue right now," said J.T. Romatzke, DOW district wildlife manager for the Parachute area.
Man camps provide housing for workers close to large energy development areas. These man camps cut expenses for workers and companies, but they equate to placing a fully operational hotel or mobile home park into prime bear habitat.
"In the past three weeks, I've taken more than 40 phone calls from energy workers who want us to 'do something' about the bears," added Romatzke. "Without cooperation on the trash, grease and food storage issues, we can't help in these situations." Just like trash left out in town, trash strewn around well pads will attract hungry bears. Bears that become habituated to getting food from human sources also become more aggressive in their efforts to get food. "We've had some requests for us to trap and relocate bears out of these sites," said Dean Riggs, DOW area supervisor for the Grand Junction area. "But, unlike bears that venture into town and become a nuisance, this is a situation where man has come right into the heart of the bears' habitat and we aren't willing to start punishing the bears for that."
Beyond the unwillingness to punish bears for energy development, wildlife officials aren't sure that there are places to move bears that become habituated to well site and man camp trash.
With more than 90% of the public land in Northwest Colorado already leased for energy development, there aren't many places to move bears where the bear wouldn't just find another untidy well pad.
Many communities have ordinances requiring residents to deal with trash by using wildlife resistant or wildlife proof containers, but no such requirements exist for remote sites like well pads. The DOW is hopeful that energy companies and their numerous subcontractors will work to address the problem through establishing and enforcing strict trash policies and by providing proper trash disposal equipment.
To make matters worse, the DOW has begun receiving reports of energy workers intentionally feeding bears. Officers have even seen pictures of energy workers posing for pictures with bears. "Feeding bears is against the law and we will write citations," said Ron Velarde, Regional Manager for Northwest Colorado. "This kind of human behavior jeopardizes the safety of the people feeding the bears, but more critically it jeopardizes the safety of every person the bear comes into contact with in the future."