DURANGO, CO -- Bears are emerging from their long winter naps throughout Colorado, and the Division of Wildlife is reminding residents and visitors to always be bear aware.
At this time of year, bears will be looking for new plant growth and fresh grass to eat to help them restart their digestive systems. But bears, once they are up and running, are opportunistic feeders and will exploit any available food supply, including: garbage, pet food, bird seed, and home and restaurant table scraps. Bears that become habituated to human food sources can be dangerous and often must be euthanized.
Because they are large omnivores, bears are nearly always on a search for food. Wild foods are essential for bears -- berries, insects, acorns forbs, plants and carrion. But when people fail to store garbage, pet food or bird feeders properly, bears will find those sources and cause conflicts in residential and business areas.
Many communities in bear country have ordinances regarding trash storage that apply to wildlife, so abide by those rules.
If you live in bear country, these simple precautions can reduce or eliminate your chances of creating conflicts with bears:
- Keep garbage in a secure building or a bear-resistant trashcan or dumpster.
- If you don’t have a place to store garbage, ask the trash company for a bear-resistant container or order one. Many suppliers advertise containers on the Internet.
- Place smelly food scraps in the freezer until garbage day.
- Rinse out all cans, bottles and jars so that they are free of food and odors before putting them out for recycling or pick-up.
- Put out garbage cans only on the morning of pick-up. Do not put out garbage the night before.
- Wash garbage cans regularly with ammonia to eliminate food odors.
- Don’t leave pet food or pet dishes outside.
- Bird feeders are a major cause of wildlife conflicts. Besides bears, feeders may also attract small mammals, deer and mountain lions. Birds do not need to be fed during the summer. As an alternative to feeders, attract birds naturally by hanging flower baskets, putting out a bird bath or planting a variety of flowers. Use bird feeders only from November until the end of March when bears are hibernating.
- If bears get into bird feeders, take the feeders down immediately and don’t put them back up.
- Pick ripe fruit from trees and off the ground.
- Clean outdoor grills after each use; the smell of grease can attract bears.
- Never intentionally feed bears.
- Close and lock lower floor windows and doors of your house.
- Clean up thoroughly after outdoor parties.
- Don’t leave food in your car, lock car doors. Bears are smart and many have learned to open car doors.
- When camping, store food and garbage inside a locked vehicle. Keep the campsite clean. Don’t eat in the tent. In the backcountry, hang your food at least 10 feet high and 10 feet away from anything a bear can climb.
- Bears are not naturally aggressive toward people and prefer to avoid contact. If you see a bear in your neighborhood make it feel unwelcome: yell at it, throw sticks and rocks at it. But never approach a bear.
Remember this: “a fed bear is a dead bear.” Making food available to bears teaches them to associate humans with food -- and that’s the start of conflict.
To report bear problems, contact your local Colorado Division of Wildlife office, or local law enforcement.