Be bear aware in the region

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Sherri L. Albertson special to Courier and Tribune
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Fall is right around the corner, and it is time to be especially bear aware, says Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Now that the days are getting shorter and the nights a little cooler, its prime time for the bears in the area to start preparing for winter. Bears will want to gather and eat as much as possible, with the least amount of effort, and that’s where the conflict between humans and the animals will happen in the coming months.

Black bears are a curious, smart and highly adaptable species. They are ravenous this time of year and are naturally attracted to easily-accessible human food sources, like the trash cans, restaurants and campgrounds and birdseed or hummingbird bird feeders. A bear’s nose is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s, allowing them to smell a food source up to five miles away. During early fall, they need to consume 20,000 calories a day to gain enough weight to survive the harsh, mountain winter season and can forage up to 20 hours per day.

Black bears typically accumulate their winter-fat stores in the fall during hyperphagia. Human-bear conflicts are a fact of life in Colorado, but some simple actions can help reduce those conflicts, said Sabrina Hurwitz, district wildlife officer in Colorado Springs.

“Taking steps to keep your house and property free of potential food sources can prevent a bear from being killed,” she said. “Once a bear has gotten a taste of human food sources, conflicts start, and most conflicts end with a bear being relocated or euthanized.”

Much of what people throw away smells like food to a bear. Standard metal or plastic trash cans will not keep a bear away. Once a bear discovers a food source, it will continue to return, and could defend the source if it feels threatened.

Bears are very shy creatures and normally wary of contact with humans. But they also are very strong and can cause unintended damage to property in the name of getting a tasty meal. So to make things easier for both sides and to lessen the chance of conflict and possible harm to either, keep these common sense tips in mind until the bears head for their winter dens.

-- Do not feed the bears. Feeding wildlife is illegal and if the bears get too comfortable around people they can become a threat to human safety, which can result in their needless death.

-- Don’t leave trash or recycling containers out overnight. A study has shown that putting the trash out in the morning instead cuts the chance of a bear visit from 70 percent down to 20 percent. Follow the community’s trash ordinances.

-- Keep garage or shed windows and doors closed and locked tight. Also keep all ground floor windows and doors closed and locked. Bears that learn where to find trash and are given easy access to it will also learn to come back for more. Always lock vehicles and don’t leave odorous food, trash or air fresheners inside.

-- During this time of year, it’s smart to bring in birdseed or hummingbird feeders at night or put them up completely. Seeds, nuts and berries are some of a bear’s favorite treats and damage to the feeders or worse is guaranteed. Pick fruit as it ripens and don’t let it rot on the ground.

-- When barbecuing, make sure to burn off stuck on pieces of food and clean the grill after each use.

According to District Wildlife Manager for Teller County Tonya Sharp, the bear population in Woodland Park is causing more than the usual havoc with restaurant dumpsters lately. “I highly encourage restaurant owners and their staff to take the extra effort to properly close dumpster lids, secure the lock bars and to use chains if necessary,” Sharp said. “People can also pour a little ammonia or bleach into garbage bags or spray the dumpster areas or trash cans with bleach to deter bear activity,” she said.

The frequent rain in the area has led to better than average production of natural fall forage such as berries and acorns. Bears do prefer natural food when it is available, but community members shouldn’t let their guard down until bears enter hibernation in mid-November.

Referencing a recent situation where a sow and her cubs were noticed eating from a dumpster, Sharp said that “there is a whole new generation of bears learning to eat out of dumpsters that aren’t securely closed.

Unfortunately some of these bears could be hit by cars while crossing the highway or need to be destroyed due to becoming habituated to people. Every effort needs to be made to make bears feel unwelcome around homes and businesses and to not provide bears with artificial food sources,” she said.

Everyone should do their part to keep bears wild and safe. Visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s website at www.wildlife.state.co.us/bears for more information. There one will find facts sheets on living in harmony with bears, handy home checklists, including how to bear proof the trash and much more.

Sharp can also be reached by calling (719) 227-5200 and she or one of DOW’s Bear Aware volunteers will provide more information.

For other bear-related questions, visit cpw.state.co.us/bears, or contact the closest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.

- Special to the Courier

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