DENVER A berry-killing drought and late spring freeze pushed hungry Colorado bears into more confrontations with humans this year, and wildlife managers say a record 59 bears have been killed by wildlife officials as a result.
Officials say the toll could go higher. With temperatures as much as 10 degrees above average this fall, some bears are still hanging around towns in search of food instead of getting comfortable inside their winter dens.
That could lead to more confrontations and more cases of bears being put down.
The previous record number of nuisance bears killed in Colorado was 55, in 2002.
Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and other Western states are also experiencing more conflicts, with weather a factor in many cases. A bear killed an 11-year-old boy at a Utah campground in June.
One factor behind increased bear-human conflicts in the West is population growth, with more people moving into bear habitat. In Colorado, it's common to see television news footage of bears climbing into backyard trees.
Shortages of bears' natural food make things worse. Without enough to eat, bears often scavenge in garbage containers and sometimes even enter houses in search of food.
Wildlife managers have been working with communities to avoid creating attractions for bears, especially open trash cans.
Colorado wildlife managers, like ski area workers, farmers and water suppliers, are hoping the snow and cold will come soon and hit hard enough to send nuisance bears into hibernation.
But less snow during winter also is causing bears to delay hibernation, increasing bear-human conflicts, said Tom Palmer of the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
The Yellowstone region also has seen at least seven attacks on humans this year by grizzlies. No one has been killed, but some of the maulings caused serious injuries. In two cases, the attacking grizzlies were killed by hunters.
Notwithstanding widespread publicity over the maulings, state and park officials have said the number of attacks this year still fall within the normal range for grizzly run-ins. The federal government has decided the grizzly to many people, a symbol of the West is thriving and can be taken off the federal endangered species list.