Wildlife officials remind residents to be bear aware in Colorado

Seeking food sometimes will bring animals into homes

Posted 6/1/18

With summer approaching, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is encouraging residents statewide to take measures to avoid unwanted encounters with bears. The department has received eight reports of …

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Wildlife officials remind residents to be bear aware in Colorado

Seeking food sometimes will bring animals into homes

Posted

With summer approaching, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is encouraging residents statewide to take measures to avoid unwanted encounters with bears.

The department has received eight reports of residential bear encounters, though the numbers through May are still unofficial. Last year, the department received 19 calls in the same time frame. Rebecca Ferrell of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the high numbers last year were due to a late freeze, which forced bears to search for food in residential areas more than usual.

The only bear species native to Colorado is the black bear, which despite the name, can sometimes look brown, blond or cinnamon in color, according to CPW. The average weight of a male black bear is 275 pounds, while females average 175 pounds.

Black bears are most active from mid-March through early November, according to CPW, which cautions campers that most areas west of I-25 are in bear country.

The initial reports serve as a reminder to area residents of what has become a growing problem in the sprawling communities around Denver.

Residents in more urban parts of Jefferson and Douglas counties can often be complacent when it comes to bear awareness in their own backyards, authorities say.

Andy Hough, the environmental rescources coordinator for Douglas County's Division of Open Space and Natural Resources, said food is the main attractant for bears, which by late summer, can need about 20,000 calories a day to store up for their winter hibernation. Most of a bear's calories come from berries, plants, grasses and nuts, but they will also eat insects and scavenged carcasses, according to CPW.

If a bear is just passing through, Hough said to enjoy it from a distance.

Once a bear starts rummaging through trash or otherwise coming close to human habitat, it's important to negatively reinforce the bear's actions, according to Hough. From a safe distance or location, residents can try scaring the bear to discourage it. Things like blowing an airhorn or throwing rocks at the bear can be a negative reinforcement, and the bear will learn it is not supposed to do what it is doing. Allowing it to rummage through trash and leave with a full stomach would be a positive reinforcement and the bear may come back.

"That's bad behavior," said Hough, who spent 11 years as a game warden and has experience trapping and dealing with bears. "Just like a child, they need reprimand."

An estimated 50 percent of bear encounters aren't called in to authorities, because of a person's fear of being responsible for a bear's death. Hough said only problem bears are euthanized, meaning bears who meet one of the two following criteria: If the bear has attacked a person or if it has been relocated once and intrudes on a residence again.

In 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife euthanized more than 160 bears and relocated more than 100 following encounters in people’s homes and yards as well as on campsites, hiking trails and roads.

Last month, there were multiple media reports of encounters with bears in Colorado.

• On May 14, a 5-year-old girl in Grand Junction was attacked by a bear in her yard. She was taken to a hospital and was recently released to recover at home. The bear was caught and euthanized.

• A bear was euthanized in Pitkin May 18 after it became stuck in a post office building. It was the bear's second strike, the first coming in Buena Vista.

• On May 23, a woman driving eastbound on I-70 in Jefferson County hit and killed a bear with her SUV.

Also on May 21, two bears climbed into the basement of a Jefferson County resident’s home in Pine. They were gone before authorities arrived.

Ferrell said with the recent bear encounters, it’s important for residents to exercise extreme caution, even if it might seem tedious.

“It takes a little bit of extra effort, it feels a little bit like a pain, but it’s worth it,” she said.

Ferrell recommends locking trash bins and being mindful of outdoor pet food bowls and bird feeders. Even something as simple as cleaning an outdoor grill can go a long way in preventing a bear intrusion.

“Bears in general have a natural wariness and fear of humans ... however bears are super motivated,” Ferrell said.

“Their entire existence revolves around food source motivation and when they find that food source, they will keep coming back.”

The resident in the Pine incident said he kept trash cans in the basement, and Ferrell noted that sometimes even that precaution isn't enough.

“You never know,” Ferrell said. “We do want people to understand we’re in Colorado and there are wildlife among us.”

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