By Sally Griffin
How many of you had a teddy bear when you were younger? How many of you have one now? At our house, we have a substantial collection and our excuse is that our grandchildren still play with them. There is a story that the Teddy Bear Tradition started here in Colorado when the staff of the Hotel Colorado (Glenwood Springs) made a cloth bear for President Teddy Roosevelt when he came to Colorado to hunt bears. Hence, the name: Teddy Bear. But a stuffed bear is quite different from a bear in the back yard.
Colorado cares about bears. Colorado has several laws that deal with bears. The most recent is a 2015 bill that called upon the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to study the issue of bear-human conflicts. They reported what they found in December 2015, in a report entitled, Human-Bear Conflicts. This report, if you are interested, can be found on the CPW website: www.wildlife.state.co.us. The report explains:
Within the last several decades in Colorado, an increasing number of human-black bear encounters and conflicts have generated media headlines, alarm from some citizens and concern from local governments and the Colorado State legislature… Along with the rapid expansion of human development and associated changes in land use in Colorado, black bears have learned to forage on a variety of widely-available human-provided food, including garbage, livestock, crops, fruit trees, bird seed and pet food… Human injuries caused by bears remain rare in Colorado when compared to the overall size of human and bear populations. However, as humans continue to encroach on bear habitat and bears continue utilizing human food sources, CPW believes the number of conflicts and encounters will increase, as well the likelihood of human injuries and deaths.
In the past couple years, bears have been spotted in Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Parker, Centennial, and Boulder. A scholarly male bear cub even made it to the University of Denver. CPW research shows that when these bear invasions occur, only you can prevent problems with bears. So, it helps if you are informed about bears:
1. Because bear populations are hard to keep track of, people may assume that increases in human-bear conflicts are caused by increases in the number of bears. However, research shows that as bears gain experience with human food, they pass it on to their offspring. This behavior is probably the source of additional conflicts without an associated increase in the number of bears.
2. Bears are smart. They are curious, adaptable and have good memories. With a nose that is over 100 times more sensitive than humans, they can smell possible food from as far away as five miles. And once they find food, they will be back for more. Most bears are naturally shy. While not particularly nocturnal, they may travel at night to avoid people. They are very wary of people and unfamiliar things, and they tend to run away from what they think is dangerous.
3. Bears are hungry. Keep in mind, bears only eat about six months each year. And the closer it is to winter and hibernation time, the more desperate they are to find food. In order to survive hibernation, a bear must consume over 20,000 calories per day during late summer and early fall. Over 90 percent of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruit, nuts and plants. But they are opportunistic omnivores that will eat whatever they can find. Bears, attracted to human food sources, may damage property, vehicles and even homes to get to that food. They don’t know they are doing anything wrong. They are just following their nose to the most calories they can find. For instance, a 50-pound bag of bird seed, stored where a bear can get to it, has almost 90,000 calories. A bear feast that is worth the effort of burglary.
4. Bears that find food around homes and campgrounds often lose their natural wariness around people. Even though black bears are not naturally aggressive and seldom attack, they are still strong, powerful animals who don’t like being cornered. A bear on its way to food doesn’t like anyone or anything getting in its way. Mothers trying to feed both themselves and their cubs will go to extraordinary lengths.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is the agency charged with protecting and preserving the state’s wildlife. Bears that get comfortable around people can destroy property or even threaten the safety of people. These bears are called habituated bears and often must be destroyed. Every time CPW must destroy a bear, we lose a little piece of the wilderness that makes Colorado so special. If bears show up in your yard, take a picture from inside your house and then find a way to make them very uncomfortable. So here is what CPW suggests to avoid conflict with bears:
The biggest attraction is garbage. Most of what we think is trash, smells like food to a hungry bear. Most trash cans are easy pickings for a bear. Once a bear figures out how easy it is to empty our trash, they will come back on a regular basis. Never leave trash or recyclables out overnight. One study reported that putting trash out in the morning, as opposed to evening, can reduce the likelihood of bear visits from 70 percent to 2 percent. If you must leave trash outside, get bear-proof containers, build a bear-proof enclosure or install an electric fence. Clean out your containers regularly with ammonia or bleach. Bears hate these strong smells.
Bird feeders are a big attraction for bears. After all, seeds are a natural part of their diet and the seeds in, on, and below the feeders seem like an open invitation to bears. CPW recommends that you not feed birds during the months that bears are active, which is mostly late spring, all summer and early fall. If you don’t want to stop feeding birds, then bird feeders need to be 10 feet off the ground and 10 feet away from anything they can climb to get to the seed. Clean up regularly under the feeder and do not leave the bird seed bags anywhere that a bear can break into. They can smell the bag from a long way off and, remember, a bag of bird seed is like food gold for a bear.
Don’t feed bears or put out other food that would attract bears. Don’t forget to clean off your grill after every use. Don’t leave anything that smells like food in your car, including trash, coolers and, believe it or not, air fresheners. If you have fruit trees, you want to pick it before the ripening smell attracts the interest of the hungry bear and pick up fallen fruit which, of course, smells heavenly.
If you are interested in more information about bears, the CPW website, www.wildlife.state.co.us has information on Living With Bears, A Home Audit Checklist On How To Discourage Bears, Deterrents That Can Teach Bears To Stay Away, and A Keep Bears Wild Pledge.