The Bears Are Out And They’re Hungry!
By: Kris Hazelton
The Colorado Division of Wildlife would like to inform us that the bears are now emerging from hibernation and they extremely hungry. While its early in the season, we want to make sure these opportunistic animals do not turn to some “easy fixes” when searching for food.
By learning all we can about these bruins now, we can help avoid human/bear conflicts that may inevitably lead to a bears untimely death.
Most residents and visitors welcome the chance to glimpse a bear. But bears can be very dangerous animals and we should try to make them unwelcome visitors. Many people do not realize that by simply altering their behavior they can minimize the chance of unwanted property damage, close encounters with bears, and possibly even the death of the bear.
Black bears which we have here in Colorado, are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Bears primarily eat vegetation, supplementing their diet of grass, berries, nuts and seeds with an occasional meal of carrion (dead animals), insects, or any mammal they can catch, or dig up.
Bears are generally shy and usually avoid humans, they are opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when natural foods are not available, or easier to get at.
Is your residence free of food odors that may attract a hungry bear’s attention? Garbage, bird food, pet food, gardens and outdoor grills are the most common bear invitations.
The majority of conflicts can be avoided. Here are some tips on preventing bear problems.
Keep your bird feeder from becoming a bear feeder. Either put away or hang your bird feeders high off the ground. Hang bird seed, suet and hummingbird feeders on a wire between trees instead of on your deck or porch. Bring all bird feeders in at night. Clean up spilled seed below feeder stations.
Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area until day of pickup. Double bagging your trash is also a good idea. Don’t let garbage pile up or develop strong odors that can attract bears. If you must leave your trash outdoors, invest in a bear proof trash can or make sure your trash cans have lids that can be secured.
Feed pets indoors or feed only enough so that no food remains during the night and clean the pet food dishes thoroughly. If your dog or cat normally lives outside, bring them indoors at night.
Clean up and/or store outdoor grills after use and clean up spilled or dripped grease from deck or patio area. Do not leave food cooking outside unattended. Bears have been known to snatch food right off the grill.
Never intentionally feed bears to attract them to your yard for viewing. Keep in mind that it is illegal to feed any big game animals in Colorado, including deer, elk, bear, lion, moose and bighorn sheep. It is also illegal to feed or attract coyotes and fox in urban areas.
If you have a compost pile, do not place meat or sweet food scraps in it.
Please remember the saying, A fed bear is a dead bear!
As cute and cuddly as a bear may appear, bears are wild animals. When bears are fed, they quickly learn “unbearlike” behaviors. Sadly, this often leads to the death of the bear. Once a bear comes into contact with human foods or garbage, they return again and again. Then, Wildlife Managers are called in to deal with this “problem” bear. First, they will try discouraging it by using air horns, pepper spray and/or firing rubber bullets. They want to give the bear a negative human experience. Sometimes, relocating the bear is an option, but most of the time a bear is relocated, they return soon after, exhibiting the same behaviors. If these methods fail, killing the bear is usually the next course of action. Bears are only given two chances.
If you do encounter a bear in your yard, encourage it to leave by banging on pots and pans or make other loud noises. (air horns work well.) As a last resort, throw stones or other small objects in the direction of the bear with the intent of driving it away, not hurting it. The more stressful a bear’s encounter with you is, the less likely it is to come back.
If you unexpectedly encounter a bear in your yard, walk, don’t run away. Move slowly and don’t make eye contact. If the bear has cubs, don’t get between her and her cubs or threaten the cubs in any way. Get to a place of safety and call the police at 586-4000 who will dispatch the Colorado Division of Wildlife Manager Rick Spowart or a Bear Aware volunteer, trained to handle these situations.
Remember, to change the behavior of bears, we must first change our own. Don’t wait until you have a problem to do something about it. It is our responsibility if we choose to live in bear country to learn how to live with bears.
Photos by Gary & Kris Hazelton, Estes Park News, Estes Park, Colorado