Higher temperatures bring bears back to high country
The weather is warming up and all throughout Grand County the green sprigs of spring are beginning to push through the recently frozen terra firma.
Higher temperatures have many folks eagerly awaiting the summer months when camping, trail hiking, barbecues and afternoons on the lake once again become standard features of our lives. While spring and summer offer plenty for people to get excited about summer is also primetime for Colorado’s carnivores with hibernating animals such as black bears beginning to emerge from their winter dens in mid to late March depending on weather.
Black bears are endemic to Colorado and can be found throughout the state from the forested valleys of Grand County to the river bottom farmland of the eastern plains. Black bears, unlike their larger cousins grizzly bears, are naturally nonaggressive; they are however extremely opportunistic.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CP&W) provides a series of informational web pages, brochures and flyers on how state residents and visitors to bear country can avoid conflicts with bears and prevent any unnecessary culls. An adolescent black bear cub was shot and killed last Sept. by campers in the Vasquez Creek. The incident caused local wildlife officials to stress the importance of keeping campsites clean, so as not to entice hungry bears to areas frequented by humans.
Every year CP&W Wildlife Managers and other officials must put down black bears that encroach on human settlements because they have become too accustomed to the presence of people. The CP&W web page “Living with Bears” states, “black bears are curious, smart and very adaptable. They’re not fussy and will eat just about anything with calories. Bears want to get the most energy they can with the least amount of effort.”
Because of their curiosity and their desire to find easy calories, along with their extremely strong noses, bears often take advantage of human derived food sources. Making sure that garbage cans are either indoors or properly secured in bear country almost goes without saying, but there are several other prime sources of calories for bears in and around human settlements that many folks might not consider.
According to the CP&W “Living with Bears” web page bird feeders, with nutritious seeds that bears love to eat, are, “often the first reward a bear gets for exploring human places. Letting your bird feeders turn into bear feeders teaches bears that it’s safe to come close to people and homes looking for food. And for bears that can be a deadly lesson.”
On their web site CP&W states a seven pound bag of bird seed has over 12,000 calories and a 50 pound bag has nearly 90,000; well worth the effort for a bear looking to fatten up before winter.
Unlike deer, moose or elk bears can climb trees and reach more difficult to access bird feeders. Colorado Parks & Wildlife recommends not using bird feeders at all in bear country during the months when bears are active, usually from mid-March through early November for most of the state. Instead CP&W recommends folks use water features, plantings, nest boxes and flowers to attract birds in the spring, summer and fall.
Other often forgotten sources of food for bears in areas of human settlement include barbecue grills and fruit trees. Scented items like air fresheners can also give off odors that bears recognize as food. The majority of a bears diet, close to 90 percent according to data on CP&W’s web site, is made up of grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants with the other 10 percent rounded out primarily with insects and scavenged animal carcasses.
By being cognizant of the types of human activities that often precipitate the movement of bears into areas of human settlement the general public can reduce the number of conflicts between bears and humans, save the lives of bears and keep the majestic beauty of Colorado that much more wild.
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