Women who have spent the past few years attempting to keep bears off their property are warning others in the Log Hill area, as the bruins’ visits persist and deterrence efforts have so far failed.
“I don’t want somebody else getting hurt, either,” said Joy Hughes, who lives on the property with her sister. “We’ve got to figure out how to get rid of them. I know that they are hungry, but that doesn’t make me happy.”
The bears have been coming off and on for the past three years, Hughes’ niece Patricia Lancaster said. Lancaster travels regularly from Texas to help her aging aunt and mother keep up with the property — and deal with the bears.
She said they have followed Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s instructions about removing attractants: they stopped feeding birds; cleaned up the back porch and stopped putting cat food in the greenhouse. Lancaster also said she has laid down nail strips, as advised, but the bears just find another point of access.
“These are some big bears. The two bears that have come, one of them stood up against the side (of building) and his nose was almost to the roof,” Lancaster said.
“ … So far, they’ve not gotten into the house. They’re in the porch, the greenhouse, but last night (July 31), he was trying to get in.”
Lancaster shared photos from a Web camera she set up to monitor the situation from Texas.
“I’m afraid he’s going to get in. We’re not feeding them. We’re locking the house up tight. It’s not just one bear. It’s different bears,” she said.
Lancaster had just visited the Log Hill property and cleaned up the porch the night before one of the bears visited and ripped it apart, Hughes said.
“I think he was trying to get through the window. CPW said they can smell food miles away. I don’t want them killed, but I don’t want them in my yard,” she said.
On one occasion, Lancaster phoned her from Texas. She was watching the cameras and warned her aunt and mother not to venture outside because a bear was in the yard.
Footage recorded Wednesday night shows a bear nosing at heavy-duty plastic around the base of an outbuilding. Hughes later said perhaps it was after canned goods.
The women have informed CPW of the ongoing problem and, they said, followed the agency’s advice over the past few years.
“I know better than to feed them,” Hughes said.
After the first visits, in which bears got into her freezer, she stopped putting meat in it and, when they then pulled out dog food she had been putting in the freezer, she stopped doing that, too.
CPW set traps in the past, but these did not capture any bears.
“Fish and game acted like I wasn’t trying to do anything. They would say to stop feeding them, every time. They told me we were the only ones with bear (visits). We are not the only ones,” Hughes said.
She also said she has begun leaving her trash containers down by the road, instead of on the property.
CPW Area Wildlife Manager Renzo Del Piccolo acknowledged the women’s frustration with the persistent visits. He said the agency is also frustrated.
“They have taken a lot of steps, but over our experience, we know that bears come back where they’ve been rewarded. The vast majority of calls we get we are able to identify the attractant and the bears stop showing up,” he said.
It is “a bit of a puzzle” as to why the bears keep coming back to the home of Hughes and her sister, Del Piccolo added, but he suspects there could be an attractant somewhere on the property that has not yet been identified.
“There are still a few more steps, such as electrifying the fence that surrounds their residence. We have apparently been there many times and tried to work through a lot of these possible solutions,” Del Piccolo said. “We believe they have made a lot of steps in the right direction, but just trapping and removing bears isn’t the solution that we have found to be the best.”
Trapping bears and releasing them elsewhere tends to shift the problem to another location, while also clearing the way for other bears to come to the original problem site.
“There’s kind of a continuum we have to look at before we even set a trap. If it’s a serious enough situation, then we may call in other resources to handle the situation,” Del Piccolo said. To-date, CPW has not been informed of actively aggressive behavior by the bears, he added.
Lancaster said her aunt and mother cannot afford to install an electric fence.
“I just don’t know what to do. It’s not going to be long and they’re going to get into the house,” she said.
Hughes has acquired a shotgun, which Lancaster taught her to use, but she hopes it won’t come down to a face-to-face encounter with a bear.
“I would hate to try to shoot one. I would if I had too, but this is getting too close and too many times. We have not given them anything to eat,” Hughes said.
Like her niece, Hughes is at a loss as to what to do.
“They need to do something. I don’t know what. I imagine they’re puzzled too,” she said.
“I’m sure it’s frustrating,” Del Piccolo said. “We’re frustrated. It’s a tough situation and we’re trying to work through it. … We are willing to continue to try a variety of tools and options. We do not ignore people.”
Although it might seem a wetter year would have resulted in more natural forage for bears, that has not been the case, he said. This year’s acorn crop has been meager — an estimated 80-percent loss — while berries have done well in some areas, but are sparse in others.
“Natural food sources were a lot better last year, interestingly enough. The late snows and rains seemingly caused what we call a food failure,” Del Piccolo said.
Bears are active this time of year, as they lay up for winter hibernation by basically eating nonstop, CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said.
“People need to buckle up their attractants at this time of year. Take down the bird feeders, please,” he said, offering advice to the general public.
The public can learn more about keeping bears away and what to do if one is encountered, by visiting https://cpw.state.co.us/bears.
Hughes reiterated the things she has done to deter the bears, including putting out mothballs and cayenne pepper.
“I don’t know what else to put out to discourage them. I bought me a shotgun. I am worried about it, because they do break into your house. ... If the bears are hungry enough, they’re going to try anything. We’ve got to handle this problem,” she said.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.