DENVER, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife has received over 3,800 bear-incident reports so far since April 1, most involving bears trying to access food sources. The number of reports is expected to grow as bears enter hyperphagia, the period of preparing for hibernation when bears spend up to 20 hours a day on the hunt for 20,000 or more calories.
An incident reported to CPW over the past weekend highlights a specific Bear Aware behavior that all Coloradans should practice: When a bear is repeatedly seen in an area, the first and best protective action a home or business owner can take is calling your local CPW office or wildlife officer immediately. This not only protects people, but it is the best way to protect bears as well.
A restaurant employee in the Winter Park area was fortunate to receive only minor injuries on Thursday, August 29 from a bear that was hiding in the business’s dumpster. The bear swatted the employee on the head when surprised by the employee dumping that evening’s trash; a hat worn by the employee likely prevented receiving much more serious injuries. Though the bear was repeatedly seen by the restaurant staff and other locals nearly every night for a week, no reports were made to CPW to help try and haze or remove the bear from the area until after the incident was reported the next day.
“We all know that when bears have easy food sources, they will keep coming back to them,” said JT Romatzke, Regional Manager for CPW’s Northwest Region. “It’s not so much a bear problem as a human problem when we don’t prevent bears from finding easy meals, and also when we accept bad bear behavior as normal. We need people to call us early and often when bears become a nuisance, instead of waiting for a worst-case scenario.”
CPW officers monitored the area after the incident, and the bear returned as expected. Officers say the animal was extremely habituated and demonstrated no fear of wildlife and police officers on the scene. Because of the attack and the dangerous behavior, CPW officers put the bear down.
“In this case, there was a clear pattern of where and how the bear was moving each night, but people in the area had the attitude that it was normal for bears to get into trash,” said Romatzke. “It took a person getting injured for someone to finally call us. By that point, this bear was so conditioned to getting food that it had become dangerous. We need people to understand that you are not doing bears any favors by not calling us; we can work together to prevent these animals from becoming dangerous in the first place if we get a report.”
Not reporting bear incidents is unfortunately not unique to one interaction or area. Several recent human-bear interactions have been the direct result of bears being conditioned to human food sources when residents and businesses accept bears getting into trash and don’t take the steps to secure waste nor call CPW when bears repeatedly return.
Because most human-bear interactions are preventable, CPW echoes the frustrations and concerns of those who become upset when these animals face consequences because of problems people have caused. Keeping communities safer and bears away from attractants requires a partnership between CPW, community businesses and residents making a commitment to using dumpsters and trash cans specifically designed to keep bears out. Though often used with the best of intentions, modified dumpster lids, raccoon-proof cans, and self-rigged options are simply not sufficient to keep bears out of trash.
“We become wildlife officers because of our love for Colorado’s wildlife, and putting down an animal is one of the worst parts of our job,” said Romatzke. “It’s frustrating, because we don’t want to see bears put down any more than our residents do. But if people, or even our trash companies, aren’t putting in the effort to be Bear Aware and help us out, these types of conflicts will keep happening.”
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 calling CPW when bears become a nuisance.
When Coloradans refuse to follow these common-sense principles, bears become habituated to seeking out meals from homes and populated areas. When bears are habituated, as in this case, they often lose their instinctual fear of humans, which can lead to increased risks to human health and safety.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers are tasked with both managing wildlife and ensuring public safety, but must always prioritize human health and welfare.
Help protect Colorado’s bears by taking the following steps to bear-proof homes and personal property:
Keep Bears Out
Close and lock all first floor windows and doors when you leave the house and at night before you go to bed.
Install sturdy grates or bars on windows if you must leave them open.
Keep car doors and windows closed and locked if you park outside. Make sure there’s nothing with an odor in your vehicle, including candy, gum, air fresheners, trash, lotions and lip balms.
Close and lock garage doors and windows at night and when you’re not home; garage doors should be down if you are in the house but not outside.
Install extra-sturdy doors if you have a freezer, refrigerator, pet food, birdseed, or other attractants stored in your garage.
Remove any tree limbs that might provide access to upper level decks and windows.
Replace exterior lever-style door handles with good quality round door knobs that bears can’t pull or push open.
Get Rid of Attractants
Don’t leave trash out overnight unless it’s in a bear-proof enclosure or container. Be sure to research all local ordinances and regulations if vacationing.
Clean your trash cans regularly.
Don’t store food of any kind in an unlocked garage, flimsy shed or on or under your deck.
Don’t leave anything with an odor outside, near open windows or in your vehicle, even if you’re home. That includes scented candles, air fresheners, lip balms and lotions.
Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck, cleaning your grills after each use. Don’t allow food odors to linger.
Only feed birds when bears are hibernating, generally Nov. 15 – April 15. If you want to feed birds when bears are active, bring in liquid or seed feeders at night or when you leave the house.
If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe. Don’t allow fruit to rot on the ground. Electric fences provide good protection for small orchards.
When camping do not leave coolers, food or pots/pans out when you’re not in camp. Place them in a locked, hard-sided vehicle.
Teach Bears to Remain Wild
If a bear comes close to your home, scare it away. Loud noises like a firm yell, clapping your hands, banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn sends most bears running.
Utilize electric fencing, unwelcome mats and scent deterrents like ammonia to teach bears that your property is not bear-friendly.
If a bear enters your home, open doors and windows and ensure it can leave the same way it got in. Don’t approach the bear or block escape routes.
Never approach a bear. If a bear won’t leave, call your local CPW office or Colorado State Patrol.
If a bear presents an immediate threat to human safety, call 911.
For more information on how to stay bear aware during this busy bear season, visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Living with Bears page.