Common sense can reduce bear encounters as bruins lard up for winter

A bear up a tree in a Littleton backyard.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife received 3,644 bear reports from April 1 through Aug. 31, down slightly from the 3,855 over the same timeframe the previous year.

However, that number is expected to grow rapidly as bears are now in hyperphagia, the period when bruins are preparing for hibernation and spend up to 20 hours a day on the hunt for 20,000 or more daily calories.

Most of the reports involve bears trying to access human food sources and as we enter this fall period of hyper bruin activity, CPW is calling on residents to remove attractants to reduce conflicts and keep you and the bears safe.

In the Montrose, Delta, San Miguel and Mesa counties area (Area 18), bear activity has tapered off since June, but people are still encouraged to practice standard bear-aware habits.

“The acorns on the scrub oak have come on very strong in the last couple of weeks and our phones have stopped ringing,” said Matt Ortgea, acting area wildlife manager for Area 18

“A late spring frost killed some berry crops and there was some bear activity in June and July, but not as much as in some past years. The acorn crop will sustain most bears well into the fall,” he said.

He also said that bears are finding plenty of food in stands of juniper and pinion tress. Those trees are showing good crops of berries and nuts.

“As fall approaches, people can think of bears as basically a four-legged walking stomach,” said District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Joe Nicholson out of the Evergreen district.

“They are biologically driven to pack on calories in preparation for winter and they spend increasing time looking for the most efficient way to do so. Residents must realize it is their responsibility to secure their trash, remove other food attractants such as bird feeders, and protect backyard livestock with appropriate electric fencing to avoid conflicts that arise from attracting bears to homes.”

CPW promotes Bear Aware principles all year long, aiming to minimize interactions that put both humans and bears at risk. Being “Bear Aware” includes easy-to-execute behaviors such as securing trash cans and dumpsters, removing bird feeders, closing garages, cleaning and locking your car and house doors and calling CPW when bears become a nuisance.

Drought conditions and other factors that may influence the availability of natural food crops for bears varies across the state, as does the behavior of people when it relates to human-bear interactions. Those all play a role in annual bear activity.

The following conditions were reported in other areas near Montrose County.

Area 7, Grand Junction; Mesa and Garfield counties:

“In Grand Junction this year we’ve seen a bit more activity on the agricultural fringes of town. Some of that may be bears moving around with the fire activity north of town but certainly more is related to dry conditions in traditional bear habitat along the slopes of the Mesa, Monument, and Bookcliffs,” said Kirk Oldham, Area 7 wildlife manager.

“Recent cooler weather can be a help and we’re encouraging everyone to make sure that attractants like trash, bird feeders, and barbecue grills are properly stored to not attract bears. If residents see bears in urban areas or have bears creating issues in the rural areas, please reach out to the local CPW office so we can prevent serious problems before they happen.”

Area 8, Aspen, Glenwood Springs; Eagle and Pitkin counties:

“Locally for us we’ve seen a rollercoaster of activity. COVID has restricted public gatherings and restaurant activity, which has resulted in less conflict in the urban core of Aspen. However, the same virus has also prompted an increase in visitation of campgrounds and on trails,” said Matt Yamashita, Area 8 wildlife manager.

“This summer we’ve seen a significant amount of conflict with outdoor recreators. Mother nature has provided pockets of natural forage for bears in chokecherries and acorns, but we still need people to do their part. Even in the best natural food years, humans can create problems for bears.”

Area 15, Durango:

“In our area, unsecured trash and bird feeders continue to be the most common attractants. We have also had more reports of bears entering buildings looking for food. As bears try to put on more weight before winter, it is critical that people take precautions to remove attractants and secure their properties,” said Matt Thorpe, Area 15 wildlife manager

Area 16, Gunnison Basin, North Fork Valley:

“In Area 16 we are and have been experiencing drought conditions. With a few exceptions we have had very little moisture most of the summer, so natural food sources are minimal and scattered. Higher elevations are doing a little better and not having as many conflicts,” said J Wenum, Area 16 wildlife manager, who retired Aug. 31 after 36 years with CPW.

“Gunnison and Lake City are experiencing frequent bear conflicts as bears have been much more active in seeking alternative food sources. Much of this has involved human trash and unsecured vehicles.

“The clear answer is store trash in a secure building until trash day, preferably use a bear proof trash container, keep vehicles closed and locked.”Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers a reminder that by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid human/wildlife conflicts and help to keep bears wild.”

Here are helpful tips to prevent conflicts:

• Keep garbage in a well-secured location.

• Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.

• Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free.

• Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster; available from your trash hauler or on the Internet.

• If you don’t have secure storage, put items that might become smelly into the freezer until trash day.

• Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.

• 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.

• If you must have bird feeders: clean up beneath them every day, bring them in at night, and hang them high so that they’re completely inaccessible to bears.

• Do not attract other wildlife by feeding them, such as deer, turkeys or small mammals.

• Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, yell at them, throw things at them, make noise to scare them off.

• Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food•- and they’ll eat anything.

• Bears have good memories and will return to places they’ve found food.

• Allow grills to burn for a couple of minutes after cooking to burn off grease and to eliminate odors. Clean the grill after each use.

• Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck. Don’t allow food odors to linger.

• If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe. Don’t allow fruit to rot on the ground.

• Keep garage doors closed.

• 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.

• 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 after you’ve eaten.

• Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the back-country.

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

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

• Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.

• If you keep small livestock, keep animals in a fully covered enclosure that is electrified. Don’t stock store food outside, keep enclosures clean to minimize odors, hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure.

• If you have bee hives, install electric fencing where allowed.

For more information go to the Living with Wildlife section on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife web site: cpw.state.co.us.

Jason Clay is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This content was edited for space; the full news release includes bear information from multiple other areas of the state.

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