Do your part to remain bear aware

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) reminds citizens and visitors that bears have emerged from hibernation.

As of May 12, CPW has already received 173 reports of bear activity in 25 Colorado counties this year. Wildlife officials are urging residents to secure any and all attractants. Bears should not be eating from trash receptacles, bird feeders or other human-provided food sources around homes or businesses.

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder or trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” said Matt Yamashita, CPW’s area wildlife manager for Area 8, covering Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Eagle and Pitkin counties. “People who think that it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one timers’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

The first bears to emerge from their winter dens are typically males (boars) followed by females (sows) that did not give birth to cubs over winter. The last bears to emerge from winter dens are the females who gave birth to this year’s cubs, usually in late April. 

“Over the past several years, Area 8 in particular has seen a high number of bears inhabiting municipalities across both valleys and a subsequently high number of human-black bear conflicts,” Yamashita said. “Even with a lack of natural food sources, bears continue to have large litter sizes of three to four cubs, indicating they are receiving supplemental food from humans.”

Early season natural food sources for bears include grasses, aspen buds and other vegetative matter that is beginning to sprout. Those gentle food sources, which are the first crops available to them, help a bear’s digestive system and metabolism adjust back to normal after not consuming anything for months.

“Their bodies are needing to adjust to the fact that they haven’t consumed anything for sometimes six months,” said Mark Vieira, Carnivore and Furbearer Program manager for CPW. “So there is this phase that is referred to sometimes as walking hibernation, where they are out on the landscape moving slowly and eating what tends to be more vegetative material that starts to pass through their system to get their bodies ready for early summer food sources. That is when they will move back into the typical omnivore diet that we see bears eating the rest of the year.”

Over 90 percent of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants — native crops all dependent on moisture. Wildlife officials monitor weather patterns in the spring and summer to help determine what natural forage will be available in the summer and fall. 

In years where there is good moisture and natural food sources are abundant, human-bear conflicts and interactions are down. 

Though most human-bear interactions occur in the late summer and fall months, a late frost or prolonged dry weather could lead to localized natural food failures and a rise in conflicts. A lack of natural food availability pushes black bears to be more persistent in their search for human-food sources. Being bear aware not only protects your home and property, but it can save a bear’s life.

Starting with proper bear aware practices early in the season may help prevent bears from discovering your home or neighborhood as a food source that it will return to throughout the year.

Become bear aware

CPW offers a reminder that by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid human/wildlife conflicts and help to keep bears wild. 

Bear-proof your home:

• Keep garbage in a well-secured location. Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.

• Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them free of food odors: Ammonia is effective.

• Keep garage doors closed. Do not leave pet food or stock feed outside.

• Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.

• Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.

• Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, haze it by yelling at it, throwing things at it and making loud noises to scare it off.

• Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.

• Clean the grill after each use and clean up thoroughly after cookouts.

• If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.

• Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware. • Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.

• Keep the bottom-floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.

Cars, traveling and campsites:

• Do not keep food in your vehicle; roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.

• When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle.

• Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the backcountry.

• When camping in the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite; don’t bring any food into your tent.

• Cook food well away from your tent; wash dishes thoroughly.

Protecting your chickens, bees, livestock:

• Keep chickens, bees and livestock in a fully covered enclosure, especially at night. 

• Construct electric fencing when possible.

• Don’t store livestock feed outside.

• Keep enclosures clean to minimize animal odors. 

• Hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure as a scent deterrent.