What to do: Bear sightings increase around county
Winter is coming — and the bears can sense it.
As the cold weather draws near in Grand County, bear appearances in towns or near residences is becoming more common, a dangerous prospect for humans and bears alike.
“In the fall bears go through a period called hyperphagia, and they’ll try and build up 15,000 to 20,000 calories to prepare for hibernation,” said Jeromy Huntington, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It’s kind of a drive for fattening up for winter time so they can survive hibernation this fall.”
Bears coming into residential or commercial areas are in search for food, and more commonly, trash. Huntington said the biggest attractant for bears in these areas is easily accessible trash. Bears are easily able to get into normal dumpsters and trash cans with plastic lids, often destroying or the receptacle in the process or growing accustomed to the area.
“A majority of the calls we get are dumpsters not being appropriately prepared, or plastic lids that aren’t bear resistant,” said Huntington.
This issue can be easily remedied by removing your trash can, or improving it with a bear resistant dumpster made of metal, and secured by a chain or bar. Though Huntington said even bear resistant trash receptacles are often not secured properly, allowing bears to break in. Bear enclosures built around dumpsters are also effective.
Other attractants for bears include bird feeders and pet food. Only about 10 percent of black bears’ diets is made up of meat, while seeds and berries are very common in their diet.
“They have incredible senses,” said Huntington. “They can detect things that we can’t. So feeding dogs or pets outdoors is an attractant
if bears smell that food available. They can go and get into someone’s bird feeder and get more calories in a shorter period of time than what they can get in natural food sources. They’re opportunistic feeders, so whatever opportunity presents itself they’ll capitalize on it.”
Huntington cautioned against feeding birds, but suggested those who do hang their feeders where bears can’t reach them. He also noted that bears can smell cooking from homes, and on rare occasions will try to enter a house through a door or window. They may also attempt to enter cars if they smell an empty wrapper or coffee cup.
“On rare occasions a bear will smell something good inside a house and they’ll try to get in,” he said. “So It’s important to remind everyone to keep their doors, windows and cars locked so that bears can’t get in.”
While rare, the penalty for a bear breaking into a residence is death. Bears that become aggressive or dangerous to the population are euthanized by Parks and Wildlife, one of a few major dangers caused by human interaction with bears, and another reason to always lock your doors.
Several bears are also killed each year by cars while attempting to enter town for food sources.
“When a bear does that we have to euthanize them,” said Huntington. “If it becomes aggressive or a public safety concern or if it gets into a house or goes after livestock. We’ll get a handful of bears every year that get hit by cars. When we’re drawing them into our neighborhoods we’re increasing the risk to them because they’re crossing roadways to get to a food source.”
Given that bears will return to a food source, it’s important not to allow bears to become accustomed to places they aren’t supposed to be.
“We encourage people not to let bears become comfortable around their property,” said Huntington.
If a bear comes on your property, Huntington said
you should try and safely scare the bear away. When faced with a bear, never approach, and if possible retreat to a safe location. Only, once at a safe location, inside a house or on a deck, should you try and scare the bear off your property.
Huntington said noise is the best option, advocating air horns or anything else that makes loud noises to drive the bear off. He stressed that this should only be attempted from a completely safe location, and to make sure that the bear has a clear escape route, otherwise it may become defensive and attack.
Huntington said that it is not necessary to report simple bear sightings or incidents of bears rummaging through trash, though instances of aggressive or destructive behavior, or a bear entering a residence should be reported immediately. Reports can be made to the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office or the State Patrol.
There are currently around 18,000 black bears in Colorado, the only native species of bear in the state. There aren’t any specific numbers for Grand County, though Huntington said Parks and Wildlife has been working on a series of “hair snares” in order to capture the DNA of bears visiting specific locations to estimate population.
Huntington also said he is aware of “a handful of bears” in the Winter Park area, multiple in Grand Lake, and two or three in Granby.
“You can significantly reduce the occurrence of bears in neighborhoods or towns just by not having attractants available to them,” said Huntington. “They have that risk of being around humans, and it takes them closer to homes which could tempt a bear to take another step and follow their nose to a food source.”
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