A sedated bear in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 3 September 2012. Animals are descending from mountains and mesas, desperate to eat whatever they can find before winter. Luis Sanchez Saturno / The Santa Fe New Mexican, via Associated Press

By JACK HEALY
6 September 2012

DENVER – People move to the mountains to be closer to nature. But not this close.

At least two candy stores have been burglarized this summer by ravenous, drought-starved bears. They are being struck by cars as they roam dark highways, far from their normal foraging grounds. Growing numbers are invading campsites and kitchens in search of food. One even tried to storm a hotel bar in Telluride, Colorado.

In addition to destroying crops, this summer’s record-breaking drought has also killed off the wild acorns, berries and grasses that sustain animals like mule deer, elk and bears. Without that food, the great outdoors is pushing its way inside, looking for calories wherever they can be found.

Elk and mule deer are stealing into farmers’ corn and alfalfa fields more aggressively, and in greater numbers, than usual, wildlife officials say. Bears have been spotted lumbering through alleys, raiding garbage cans and scooting into people’s homes through open windows and unlocked kitchen doors.

“My God, they’re everywhere,” said Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County, in the mountains of southwest Colorado. “A lot of them just don’t seem to care anymore. They’re just wandering around.”

Similar stories abound, from ranches in Montana to tourist towns in New York’s Catskills, to the Appalachians in Kentucky. With their natural food sources ruined by drought, animals are descending from mountains and mesas, desperate to eat whatever they can find before the winter freeze comes.

There isn’t much to go around.

In Utah, officials are hoping to cull part of the state’s elk herd this fall to prevent wintertime competition over the shrunken and brittle patches of grasses. They have issued an additional 1,450 hunting tags for female elk, in the hopes that smaller herds of elk, which are relatively hardy, would enable more of the deer to survive.

“It’s kind of an emergency,” said Lowell Marthe, a state wildlife biologist. “If there’s not enough food on those winter ranges, we’re looking at potential for heavy die-offs in our deer.”

Bears are even more visible. One wandered through a farmer’s market in downtown Aspen, Colorado, this summer. Others have broken into cars after sniffing out fast-food leftovers, or ransacked people’s kitchens. One woman in Eagle, Colorado, told ABC News that her home had been bear-burgled five times.

Officials at the Grand Canyon made a rare black bear sighting this summer. In Kentucky, officials closed two campsites in late July after a family spotted a young bear rummaging through a trash can — an unusual sight for the area.

“It’s just been bear call after bear call,” said Perry Will, the wildlife manager in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “Right now, they’d eat about anything.”

And there is little relief in sight. […]

With Their Food Scarce From Drought, More Animals Try Dining in Town

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