In the middle of the night, Cheryl Matthews, a Larkspur resident, woke up to the sound of her dogs “barking like crazy.” While expecting to see a raccoon, she looked outside and saw a black bear tearing down her bird feeders and proceeding to do …
In the middle of the night, Cheryl Matthews, a Larkspur resident, woke up to the sound of her dogs “barking like crazy.” While expecting to see a raccoon, she looked outside and saw a black bear tearing down her bird feeders and proceeding to do $350 worth of damage to her property.
“We saw the bear meandering through our yard,” Matthews said. “We have a fenced yard with mesh wire around it. It is unusual for us to see bears.”
Matthews is not alone in her recent encounter with bears.
On July 9 in Boulder County, a camper was awoken by a bear biting his head, and the animal proceeded to drag him several feet before being scared off — the camper sustained only minor injuries, but the 280-pound bear was later caught and euthanized. Three days earlier, in south Jefferson County, a bear climbed up a tree near South Wadsworth Boulevard and West Bowles Avenue, an area heavily populated with people, and was relocated.
A Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release said recent dry weather is leading to a decline in bears' natural food sources, causing them to seek food from other places. Bears are looking to human trash and birdfeeders as a way to fatten up for their winter hibernation.
While officials do not count bears like they do deer and elk, Jennifer Churchill, public information officer for the northeast region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said there is a “robust” population of the animals on the Front Range.
Though they typically stick to the foothills, black bears — the only type of wild bear in the state — can be found anywhere west of I-25, Churchill said.
Adult black bears generally weigh between 100 and 450 pounds, with males typically under 300 pounds and females under 200 pounds, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife's online species profile. And they are not always black — they can also be brown or tan in color.
Though the animals are usually timid around people, their drive for food often leads them into human environments.
“Bears are generally trying to avoid us, but because we have food sources around us, they become a little braver to try and get to the food,” Churchill said.
Keeping bears away
Bears consume up to 20,000 calories a day, said Andy Hough, environmental resource specialist for Douglas County, who formerly worked for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
In the metro Denver area, a bear eats a diet that is 90 percent vegetarian and the rest is usually from insects. Bears will eat smaller animals, like chickens and goats, if they are available.
To avoid attracting bears, Churchill suggests taking down bird feeders. The nutrient-rich food is full of calories that draw bears. It is also important not to leave out trash overnight, Churchill said.
For campers, Churchill suggests tying food up, putting it in bear-proof lockers and even having campers changing out of the clothes that they cooked in.
“Try to minimize any smells,” Churchill said. “Bears have really good noses and can smell food from far away.”
If you see a bear
Black bears are not known to be aggressive, Hough said. Animals get aggressive when they feel threatened or when they are surprised, Churchill said.
“Give them a chance to escape,” Churchill said. “To avoid surprising an animal on a trail, make noise while you are hiking.”
Churchill said it is important to make the animal uncomfortable and feel unsafe when it comes to a campsite or back yard.
Hazing the animal is important, Hough said. If someone sees a bear near their home and is in an area where they can get to their home, Hough recommends making noise and throwing rocks at the animal to de-habituate the bear.
“Bears that regularly interact with people, especially if they are eating human food, are trained into bad behavior that will eventually get them killed,” Hough said.
If someone comes across a bear and they do not have a safe place to retreat into, it is important to speak loud enough so the bear knows the person is there.
Hough recommends speaking authoritatively to the animal and looking directly at it, but not in its eyes. He suggests that people raise their arms above their heads to look larger and back away slowly, never turning their back to the animal.
“In the very rare case that you are attacked, it is important to fight back,” Hough said. “Swing at it with anything you've got. They don't want to get hurt themselves and if they have something fighting back and causing trouble, they instinctively will be less likely to continue the attack.”