Just like eager skiers and snowboarders, Colorado's black bears are also starting to think about winter. But rather than eagerly anticipating deep powder, the bears are thinking about how to fatten up for their months-long hibernation. And that means they're on the move, looking for food — and often finding their way into towns and residential areas, including resorts like Copper Mountain.
Now's the time for high country residents and visitors to take precautions to prevent conflicts with bears, which usually end badly for the animals. If bears are too habituated to human food sources, they often have to be killed by wildlife managers. Just in the past few weeks, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has had numerous reports of bear conflicts all over the state.
In Aspen, a woman was injured by a bear that had been in an alley dumpster. In Crawford, a sow and her two cubs were rummaging in garbage in mid July, but a week later the sow disappeared and the two cubs had to be captured and taken to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife rehabilitation facility. Bears have broken into numerous vehicles and cabins in the northeast part of the state, and they've taken aim at chicken pens in areas around Nucla, Naturita, Delta and Montrose. Bears are also making regular visits to residential areas in the Grand Junction area.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say that food attractants made available by people are the cause of most of the conflicts.
"Overall, natural food sources that bears rely on look good," said J Wenum, area wildlife manager, in the Gunnison area. "But bears are also entering the stage of hyperphagia when they need to eat up to 20,000 calories a day to get ready for hibernation. People need to be especially cautious with their garbage and food attractants."
Giving bears easy access to food allows them to become comfortable in an area. If they find food they can become aggressive and will act to defend it. A bear protecting its food source can be very dangerous.
"Don't ever let bears get comfortable in your neighborhood or around your house," Wenum said.
People who keep chickens need to take precautions to protect their livestock, said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager in Montrose.
"The best thing they can do is put up an electric fence," said DelPiccolo. "Electric fences are an excellent deterrent and work very well."
Other small livestock such as goats, sheep and miniature horses also should be kept inside an electric fence or full enclosure. At night those animals should be brought into a secure building.
Following are tips from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on simple precautions people can take to avoid conflicts with bears:
× Keep garbage in a well-secured location; and only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
× Use a bear-resistant trash can.
× Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free.
× If you don't have secure storage, put items that might become smelly into the freezer until trash day.
× If you use a dumpster, make sure that it can't be opened by a bear.
× Don't leave pet food outside.
× Bird feeders should be brought in at this time of year -- birds don't need to be fed during the summer.
× If you have bird feeders: clean up beneath them daily, bring them in at night, and hang them high so that they're completely inaccessible to bears.
× Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food -- and they'll eat anything.
× Allow grills to run for a couple of minutes after cooking to burn off grease and to eliminate odors. Clean the grill after each use.
× Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck. Don't allow food odors to linger.
× 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.
× Keep garage doors closed.
× Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you're not at home, and at night.
× Keep doors locked, especially if your home has door handles that bears can push down easily.
× If you see a bear in your neighborhood make it feel unwelcome by making noise or throwing things at it. But stay at a safe distance and never approach the animal.
× Do not keep food in your vehicle; lock vehicle doors.
× Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.
For more information, go to the Living with Wildlife section on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website: cpw.state.co.us. If you want to talk to a wildlife officer about bear issues, please call your local CPW office.