As spring arrives in Colorado, the Division of Wildlife is reminding rural and suburban residents that now is the time to clean up sources of food that could attract black bears to residential neighborhoods.
Black bears are large, intelligent omnivores that will be looking for a first meal of new plant growth and fresh grass when they come out of hibernation. But once their digestive systems are up and running, bears become opportunistic feeders that will eagerly exploit any available nutrition, including wild and human-created food sources.
“During the summer, a bear’s primary concern is finding food,” said Albert Romero, a District Wildlife Manager in De Beque. “It’s a lot easier to get calories from a trash can than to forage for them bite-by-bite. The problem is that an easy meal provided by a careless person can cause a bear to lose its natural fear of humans.”
Wild foods are essential for bears — berries, insects, acorns, forbs, plants and carrion. But when people fail to store garbage, pet food or bird feeders properly, bears will find those sources and cause conflicts in residential and business areas.
In addition to residential garbage, pet food, bird seed and greasy barbecue grills are common bear attractants. Around commercial areas, unsecured restaurant dumpsters can quickly become targets for bears. Once a bear becomes habituated to human food and loses its fear of people, it can present a risk to public safety. Bears that become a risk to human safety often have to be euthanized.
“Bears don’t mean any harm — they’re just trying to survive,” said Aspen District Wildlife Manager Kevin Wright. “But as bear and human populations continue to spread and grow, so does the possibility of conflict. If people keep in mind their responsibility to protect our wildlife, it should help reduce the problem.”
While many bears are still hibernating, a few have been spotted around Crested Butte and Boulder. In the Aspen area, Wright has also seen a number of bears already out and about. He has also seen the signs of careless human behavior.
“I was driving through residential areas last week and noticed many trash bins without locks and other poor practices that can eventually lead bears to these homes,” Wright said. “We really want people to take care of their trash and other attractants so we don’t have to deal with problems later. Bears are powerful and determined and if people allow a bear to have an easy meal it creates problems for them and for us.”
Under the division’s two-strike bear policy, a problem bear that can’t be hazed from a conflict area may be tranquilized, given an ear tag and relocated. If a tagged bear gets into trouble a second time, wildlife managers must remove it from the population. The two-strike policy only applies to nuisance bears, but any bear that behaves aggressively or presents a threat to public safety is put down immediately.
Division authorities work hard to educate the public and reduce the number of bears that need to be euthanized. Although the education campaign has been an ongoing effort for several years, the need for it does not appear to be waning.
If you live in bear country, the division offers simple precautions to reduce or eliminate your chances of having conflicts with bears.
Follow your community ordinances regarding trash disposal. If you live in an area without a wildlife or trash ordinance, avoid problems by putting out garbage cans only on the morning of pick-up. Do not put out garbage the night before. Keep garbage in a secure building or a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. Wash garbage cans regularly with ammonia to eliminate food odors.
If you don’t have a place to store garbage, ask the trash company for a bear-resistant container or order one through a home improvement or hardware store or on the Internet. When buying a container, make sure it is approved by the “Living with Wildlife Foundation,”, the organization that tests and properly certifies trash containers for residential use. Rinse out all cans, bottles and jars so that they are free of food and odors before putting them out for recycling or pick-up. You can also seal smelly items in plastic bags and freeze them before placing them in the trash. This will minimize smells until the trash collector arrives.
Don’t leave pet food or pet dishes outside. Feed pets indoors.
Remove bird feeders and sweep up excess seed. If bears get into bird feeders, take the feeders down immediately and don’t put them back up. Take hummingbird feeders inside at night.
Clean outdoor grills after each use. The smell of grease can attract bears.
Pick ripe fruit from trees and off the ground.
Close and lock doors and windows, especially on ground-level floors when you are not at home. Bears have a keen sense of smell and may enter a home in search of an easy meal.
Don’t leave food in your car. Bears are strong enough to pry open car doors. Lock your vehicle when not in use.
Should a bear appear in a residential area, the division encourages people to make the bear feel unwelcome by yelling, making noise and throwing objects. Bears will typically leave if confronted, but if attacked, fight back with anything at hand. As in previous years, volunteer Bear Aware teams will soon be spreading out in communities where bears are active, seeking to educate residents about living with bears.
To find out more about becoming a Bear Aware volunteer, please see the division’s Living with Bears Web page at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/LivingWithWildlife/Mammals/LivingWithBearsL1.htm.