Stash Your Trash, The Bears Are Back!
By: Kris Hazelton
DOW Bear Aware Volunteer
Several bear/human encounters were reported in Estes Park last week. With the lack of rain we have been experiencing, the bears natural food sources are drying out and bears are seeking an easy food source, bringing them closer to places where we live and work in search of an easy meal.
Once bears get needed calories from human-related food sources, they are very likely to stop seeking their natural foods, which may take more time and energy to locate.
The best way to avoid these human/bear encounters is to ensure a bear doesn’t have access to human food sources in the first place. All of our homes are located in proximity to areas occupied by bears. Bears will naturally investigate food odors and are attracted to many different foods such as garbage, bird seed and suet, pet foods, compost piles and grease on barbecue grills. Once a bear receives a “reward” such as one of these foods, it may return to the same area several times (even after food is removed) or search around the general area for similar foods. Some bears become fairly tolerant of humans in these situations and appear tame. Remember, bears are wild animals, and are unpredictable. Therefore, the solution to most bear problems is to remove the source of attraction before conflicts occur.
A fed bear is a dead bear. More often than not, when a bear continues to seek out food near people, it often has to be put down by the Division of Wildlife. People can greatly increase a bear’s chance of survival if they take the time to learn what attracts bears and to eliminate any access to those foods.
• Do not allow bears access to garbage or other food. Store garbage inside buildings or other areas that bears cannot get to. Do not feed bears under any circumstances. Place garbage out only during the day of collection, under no circumstances should garbage be left out overnight. Keep all garbage sites clean. Consider installing “bear-resistant” containers or use dumpsters with heavy gauge metal lids as a longterm solution to bear problems.
• Clean your barbecue grill after each use.
• Do not leave pet food bowls outside.
• If bird feeders have been visited by a bear, stop feeding birds for one to two weeks.
Many who have encountered a human habituated bear may ask, “Why not just move the problem bear to another area?”
There are several reasons why moving these bears is not an option. First and foremost, moving a bear does not address the problem. If the problem is not fixed, other bears will move in to take advantage of the food source or, the bear that was moved may return to become a problem once more. Second, catching a wild animal such as a bear puts both bears and people at risk of injury, especially in residential areas. Finally, there are no longer areas that are sufficiently remote enough to ensure that a relocated bear would not encounter other residences and possibly become a nuisance there.
Moving bears is no longer an option and we, as people living in bear country, have the responsibility to make sure we are not a part of the problem by attracting these animals to our homes.
Black bears are an important part of Estes Park’s fauna. As people move into bear country in increasing numbers, it is ultimately human attitudes toward bears that will determine whether bears will continue to exist in our area. We have provided some simple, common sense steps you can take to do your part in ensuring that bears and people can live together. As a temporary or permanent resident in bear country, take these easy steps to avoid attracting bears and to prevent conflicts from occurring. Remember, prevention is the best medicine! By being aware of the foods and situations that attract bears and taking steps to eliminate these attractants around our homes, we protect ourselves and help keep wild bears in the wild.