The Town of New Castle hosted the third in a series of community conversations on April 19, “Living with Bears.” Previous conversations were held on March 1 and March 22, and the next event will take place fully in Spanish at the New Castle Community Center on May 17.
The first three conversations focused on educating the community about black bears, what good and bad food years look like and how climate change is affecting human-bear interactions. These included an introduction where community members discussed their experiences with bears, a slideshow from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers and time for questions.
“What we now need is to have conversations with Colorado Parks and Wildlife that focus on educating our community on bears, what prevention looks like and what it looks like if you run into a bear,” New Castle Town Councilor Caitlin Carey told The Sopris Sun.
Carey got the ball rolling for the series with CPW, Town Council, Brenda Lee of the Colorado Bear Coalition and Spanish translator Astrid Recinos after numerous bear encounters in New Castle’s residential areas last summer and fall. CPW was represented by area wildlife manager Kurt Oldham and officers Jake Stanton and Travis Bybee.
“I didn’t want there to be any barriers. I wanted it to be just as open a conversation in English as Spanish, in Martian and whatever language we need to have this in because it includes everyone,” Carey explained regarding the emphasis on translation.
One human-bear incident involved a New Castle woman whose arm was lacerated by a sow that tried to open her hot tub. That tragically led to the sow and one of her three cubs being euthanized. CPW later rehabilitated the remaining cubs at the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt.
“We took the kids to school that day [after the attack],” said Carey. “We were told to deliver our children in-person or via vehicle … As I began to talk with my neighbors, I realized how traumatized we all were by this.”
A second bear incident happened in the early fall when a New Castle man escaped a potential mauling after a bear knocked him down in his backyard. He scared it off with gunfire. Though these events were traumatic for the community, they were catalysts of Carey to get organized to ensure the community is better informed.
“I began thinking it through and chewed on what it needed to look like,” she said. “I had this feeling that it needed to be in the round. No tables, no podiums, and everybody is in chairs. Nobody is standing up unless they’re going to get coffee or something.”
The Town of New Castle is now working on a wildlife ordinance to aid the community. Carey shared her vision for a hotline where neighbors can call upon their fellow community members to take care of their trash if they are sick, injured, or out of town.
“The beauty of smaller communities is that we can work together to take care of each other,” she said. “Not only would it be beneficial, but it would also build a sense of community.”
Carey considers it her duty as a public servant to engage the community on topics that are not always comfortable, including the sometimes dangerous realities of living with wildlife. During the third conversation, CPW officers spent about 45 minutes speaking on bear safety, what to do when encountering a bear, encouraging the use of bear spray when hiking and camping, and safe ways to haze a bear away.
For example, if you find yourself in the presence of a black bear, do not turn your back on them but walk away slowly while loudly but calmly acknowledging it. Do not make sudden movements, run away, approach the animals or climb a tree to escape. It is advised that hikers not wear perfume or scented lotions on trails and ensure all food and toiletries are in a safe and locked container. CPW also advised that you should not use bear spray around the parameters of a campsite, as the smell will — ironically — attract them.
For more information on bear safety, visit cpw.state.co.us or the Town of New Castle’s wildlife safety page on their official website: www.newcastlecolorado.org