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Only YOU Can Save the Bears: Gleaning a Brighter Future

Only YOU Can Save the Bears:

"The bears are back in town" might as well be the theme song this summer. With a shortage of raw foods in their natural habitat, bears are skulking the streets of Durango instead of gallivanting in the woods and mountains outside of town. Every neighborhood has experienced nights filled with dogs barking into dark alleyways opening to mornings of tipped-over trashcans and piles of plastic-laced reminders that the bears are eating more than fruitful antioxidants.

In fact, Bear Smart Durango (BSD) has received double the amount of bear-related service calls than it has in any of its 15-year history, according to Bryan Peterson, executive director of BSD. With no less than 465 reports, this makes 2017 the worst bear season on record.

As with any desperate situation, residents are fired up. This week, City Council held a public meeting to propose an emergency ordinance to enforce a fine of $100 to $200 for folks who don't bother with trashcan compliance laws. But beyond securing waste, there's also an innovative movement taking place to remove another human food attractant to the rumbling tummies of these oversized, real-life teddies: gleaning the fruit from trees around town before the bears do.

Despite the dry spring and late-season frost ruining most of this year's fruit tree crop, pears, plums, apples, apricots and other juicy delights are popping out like early holiday season ornaments adding to the curbside buffet options for hungry ursine.

It's hard to blame the Yogi's for picking where the plucking is easy. They're smart, after all, and with winter just around the corner, hyperphagia spurs their appetites into a crazed frenzy of feasting. They'll gorge on 20,000 calories a day, so why wouldn't they go for low-lying fruit?  

A solution to remove this human food source is in the works, thanks to a first-ever collaboration between BSD, Local First, School District 9-R, Cooking Matters, Fort Lewis College Environmental Center, The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, Colorado State University - La Plata County Extension and Healthy Community Food Systems.

This dream-team partnership of some of the region's most invested environmental players helps to form the Durango Regional Food Recovery Hub (Hub). Their current focus is to not only remove the fruit from the table where bears dine but to also develop a program that will make it easier for area residents to make use of this recovered food source.

While decreasing human-bear conflicts and food waste, the ultimate goal of the Hub is to increase access and availability of local produce for all regional residents, including low-income families and locally-owned food-based businesses. To accomplish this lofty ideal the Hub will hire a full-time coordinator of the gleaning program. They'll also create a website and phone app virtual "food hub" pairing system.

But, unlike the fruit, money does not grow on trees, so this determined group is reaching out to the community. The Payroll Department in Durango was the first to respond in a momentum-swinging way. They stepped up with a challenge to the Hub by awarding BSD with a $10,000 grant to address this largely manageable aspect of human food and bear encounters. The only catch is that in return, BSD must match the grant.

Beyond simply matching that with an equal amount, the BSD has shifted their campaign to raise $50,000 by December 31, 2017. The extra dollars will go to their overarching vision, as well as financially support the hiring of a part-time enforcement officer to assist with trash compliance and assist residents with bear deterrents, like electric fencing.

How can you help, you ask? Great question! First of all, use bear-resistant trashcans properly. And though it seems dated, don't neglect the power of the written word; write a letter to support the city and county in hiring enforcement officers to encourage others to also properly secure their bear-resistant trashcans. If you know of any trees that need to be gleaned, connect with fruitglean.org to post those trees.

Finally, go to this website and put some money behind your passion to reduce human food and bear encounters. Corporate sponsorships will be obtained from $500 to $5000, while individual donors will also be contacted for gifts of $500 to $5000. With the Payroll Department grant of $10,000, this would mean a total of $60,000 for a self-sustainable project.

The tastier side of this enterprise will be sampled at the second annual Eat Local Harvest Dinner this Saturday, September 9th, at the Smiley Building Lawn. The four-course fine-dining experience is capped off with a Gleaned Plum Custard, Cornmeal Shortbread and Lemon Verbena Meringue paired with Strawberry  & Peach Mead presented by the Ore House. The plums have been harvested by the Hub.

But tickets are sold out, so plum custard hopefuls will have to wait to taste till the gleaned fruit starts making appearances on restaurant menus around town. Meanwhile, follow the rules and keep those lids locked when appropriate. Bears are determined sonsovguns and serve as a constant reminder that we moved into their home, not vice-versa. They won't change their ways, so it's up to us to change ours.

Bears of Durango

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A bear cub and mama mosey through a Durango residential backyard.

photo by Cole Davis

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A blackbear going for low-hanging fruit.

photo courtesy WildSafeBC Elk Valley

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Wild berries, an important part of a healthy bear's diet.

photo courtesy Bear Smart Durango

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A healthy bear scat, indicating a berry rich diet.

photo courtesy Bear Smart Durango

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Apples gleaned at Fort Lewis by the Crop Mobbers. Gleaning removes tempting food sources from populated areas.

photo courtesy FLC Environmental Center/Bear Smart Durango


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