Be bear aware: It’s time to fatten up for hibernation

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    Local bears are preparing for hibernation.

    Walking in the woods last week, I found where a bear had torn a heavy lid off of a storage box and tossed it to the side. It seemed the bear heard the buzzing of some bees inside the box. It was a pretty heavy metal lid that was scratched up by the bear’s claws. Luckily, he didn’t find anything to eat inside the box.

    It’s that time of year when bears are entering hyperphagia and will spend up to 20 hours a day trying to eat more than 20,000 calories to fatten up for winter. 

    Last week, a friend informed that a 200-pound bear had been spotted roaming in the area of my house. 

    Standing in my kitchen last week, I finally spotted the bear walking across my front yard around 7 p.m. He was a monster of a bear. I would estimate that he was more like 400 pounds. 

    Some people think I exaggerate a bit.

    The next day, there was a hole scratched in the ground where it seemed the bear dug up a big mushroom in the middle of the trail where I walk with my dogs every day. 

    Less than 24 hours later, there were big piles of pine needles pushed up along the same trail through the woods where he must have been rooting around for more mushrooms. 

    I’m keeping my dogs closer to me and carrying my phone and bear spray these days. 

    In May, 39-year-old Laney Malavolta, of Durango was mauled to death by a bear while out walking her dogs. A female black bear and two yearling cubs were found nearby. 

    The Durango Herald reported at the time that “a state wildlife pathologist found human remains inside the stomachs of two of the bears, and Malavolta’s autopsy report said there was extensive damage to her neck from the attack.

    “The most recent fatal bear attack in Colorado was in August 2009 near Ouray, also in the southwestern part of the state. A 74-year-old woman was killed by a 394-pound (179-kilogram) male black bear, and an investigation determined she had been illegally feeding bears through the fence in her yard.”

    Every year, The Pagosa Springs SUN prints stories about how residents can avoid attracting bears and hopefully avoid conflict, too.

    We also print photos of Pagosa Country’s bears taken by residents. Most of those photos have been captioned with reminders to put away bird feeders and stop feeding the bears. 

    A few years back, a bear was shot and killed by a Loma Linda resident who feared for his life and the life of his child when a bear approached them. 

    Yes, it was sad that a bear died, but thankfully, it was not a child who died or who was severely injured. In this case, the wildlife officer found the shooting of the bear justified.

    Another time, a bear broke into a house in Aspen Springs and was killed by the property owner.

    In another instance, a bear had been killing chickens and pigs in the Cat Creek area and the bear was destroyed.

    We’ve been hearing about bears killing chickens this year, too.

    As housing, roads and industry expand into regions inhabited by bears, there is an increase of human-bear encounters and, in these cases, conflict. 

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife prints a handy “Living With Bears” brochure that serves as a guide to living in bear country. 

    The guide explains, “Black bears have lived in the foothills and forests of Colorado since long before the pioneers arrived. Today 8,000 to 12,000 black bears are trying to share space with an ever-growing human population. With many more people living and playing in bear country, human-bear encounters are on the rise.”

    And, while we think we have bear problems, the guide explains that, in Colorado, bears have people problems. “Every year, bears attracted to human food sources damage property, vehicles and even homes. Bears don’t know they’re doing anything wrong. They’re just following their super-sensitive noses to the most calories they can find. 

    “Bears that find food around homes, campgrounds and communities often lose their natural wariness of people. Even though black bears are not naturally aggressive and seldom attack or injure people, they are still strong, powerful animals. A bear intent on getting a meal could injure someone who gets in its way. Every year bears that have become too comfortable around people have to be destroyed.”

    There is no doubt that Colorado is bear country. The guide offers some helpful information about black bears:

    • “Black is a species, not a color. In Colorado many black bears are blonde, cinnamon or brown. 

    • “Over 90 percent of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants. The rest is primarily insects and scavenged carcasses. 

    • “Black bears are naturally shy, and very wary of people and other unfamiliar things. Their normal response to any perceived danger is to run away. 

    • “In Colorado most bears are active from mid-March through early November. When food sources dwindle they head for winter dens. 

    • “With a nose that’s 100 times more sensitive than ours, a bear can literally smell food five miles away. 

    • “Bears are very smart, and have great memories – once they find food, they come back for more. 

    • “During late summer and early fall bears need 20,000 calories a day to gain enough weight to survive the winter without eating or drinking. 

    • “Bears are not naturally nocturnal, but sometimes travel at night in hopes of avoiding humans.”

    There are several tips to help keep bears wild and away from your neighborhood available at cpw.state.co.us.

    Please be bear aware.

    Terri Lynn Oldham House