With first snowfall, Parks and Wildlife warns about last-minute feeding frenzy for bears before hibernation
The first real snow has finally arrived in Grand County. As locals deploy their snow brushes and get their skis waxed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking residents to be bear aware as the lumbering forest giants speed up their mission to eat and store as much fat as possible before entering hibernation.
Bears are at the peak of hyperphagia, the metabolic response to winter that triggers a feeding frenzy. Bears are spending up to 20 hours a day searching for food. Parks and Wildlife estimates that hyperphagic bears eat the equivalent of 20,000 calories a day, which is equivalent to eating 20 chicken sandwiches, 10 large fries, 10 sodas and 10 milkshakes daily.
If bears do not store enough fat, they might not survive the winter, making the gorging a real matter of life and death.
When natural food sources are spent or buried by snow, they will keep looking for easily accessible food wherever they can get it, including from sources in and around human neighborhoods. This often leads to bears becoming more aggressive and increases the possibility of a dangerous conflict between humans and bears.
“This time of year, (Parks and Wildlife) fields dozens of calls each day regarding bears turning over trash cans, entering homes and showing little to no fear of people when looking for food,” agency Interpretation and Wildlife Viewing Coordinator Mary McCormac said. “The only reason we get so many of these calls is that people are being careless: not locking their doors, not securing their trash, keeping bird feeders out and generally not being careful when they know bears are looking for an easy meal. Living responsibly with bears is everyone’s responsibility.”
Bear-proofing homes, cars and other personal property not only helps keep people safe, it can also prevent conflicts and even the death of a bear. Below are tips from Parks and Wildlife:
Keep bears out
- Close and lock all bear-accessible 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, bird seed 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 denning for the winter. 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 protections for small orchards.
Teach bears to fear humans
- 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.
- Use 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 Parks and Wildlife office. If a bear presents an immediate threat to human safety, call 911.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the national Trout Unlimited group received the funding and to clarify exactly what the money will pay for.