Spring Days Mean The Bears Are Coming Out Again

Spring Days Mean The Bears Are Coming Out Again

What Aspenites need to know about black bears in one of Colorado’s most densely-populated habitats: They’re back, beginning to emerge from their dens and shaking off some extra snow this year. 

How many? Hard to count officially. But incident reports of human-bear encounters are greater here than most areas.

“For us, I think the bigger title is this area continues to see the most bear-human conflict the past few years,” said Rachael Gonzales, a public information officer for the northwest region of Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

“We believe there are between 12,000 and 20,000 bears in Colorado,” she said. “We manage bears based on habitat and how many could live in that area.”

Male bears began to awaken the last week of March, and now the females and cubs are leaving their dens. 

“As soon things start to green up, that’s the bears’ cue to leave their dens,” said Gonzales. “Food sources are what cause bears to hibernate in the first place. Bears will oftentimes peek their heads out of the den throughout periods of hibernation to check to see if there are available greens.” 

Springtime is just as critical as fall, when bears are in hyperphasia, a phase of consuming up to 20,000 calories a day. They are also hungry enough now to take shortcuts to conserve energy while scouting for food. 

Keeping Bears Wild

The goal of successful bear and human cohabitation is not teaching bears to rely or even be tempted by humans. In other words: Don’t feed them.

Bears may look thinner, and even underweight, out of hibernation. This is natural. 

“We might think we are helping them, but we are killing them,” said Gonzales about humans feeding bears. “We need to keep bears wild, and if they learn to consume unnatural foods, it can result in a toxic cycle. They can then teach their young the same hazardous habits.”

Corn, bird seed — definitely not part of a bear’s natural food rhythm. 

“There is no such thing as a safe bird feeder during spring,” she said. “Bears can climb trees. They are very smart.”

She said some communities have ordinances require residents to pull in all bird feeders during this period. A bear’s nose is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s. Once they figure out a food source, they will keep going back to it. A bird feeder is a food source. 

No. 1: Trash

Dumpster diving and unsealed trash bins are lottery tickets to bears. This is the easiest and most accessible human source causing bear conflicts.

In 2019, CPW launched a new bear reporting system to help wildlife managers track and quantify bear activity and conflicts across the state. Since its implementation, CPW has recorded 18,351 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears, of which nearly one-third are traced back to bears getting into trash.

All trash cans in Aspen are required to be bear-proof. With the city’s new waste removal ordinance, there will be even more bear temptation in the alleys and outside residences for easy snacking.

“Bear-proof trash and recycling containers work if they’re sealed properly,” said Gonzales. “Many times, people will use them, fill them to the brim, then they are not able to close securely. This isn’t impactful in preventing bear predation on human scraps.”

For apartments, condos, and other group-sharing disposals, make sure the bear latches, and bars are securely fastened on the Dumpster. Bears can open unsecured Dumpsters with a flick of a paw.

She warned: “Recycling receptacles can be a big problem. People think, ‘Oh, I’ve cleared out the food or liquid,’ but remember: The smell is still there.”

Spring breeze, easy temptation

With temperatures rising and evenings more, um, bearable, don’t make your house literally more bear accessible.

Open patio and screen doors on ground levels and windows, even with screens, don’t stop bears.

“Bears can open doors — car, kitchen, patio. They’re highly intelligent,” said Gonzales. “The same goes for hot, summer nights. Bears are active in the evening and appreciate the lower temperatures, as well. It’s commonplace not to have an air conditioner in high elevations. However, be bear-educated.”

That sizzling spring steak, marinating with juices, and seasoning, it smells just as good to bears. Even if the grill is placed on a closed deck or patio, it’s irresistible. 

“Bears will lick the scraps or dried juices off the metal of a grill. Especially overnight when no one is around,” she said. “Make sure to clean the grill properly, and secure it with cover and sealed lid.”

CPW advice if you confront a bear:

  • Black bears are highly-intelligent and respond uniquely to people and situations. Wild black bears seldom attack unless they feel threatened, cornered, or are provoked.
  • Stand still, stay calm, and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.
  • If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately.
  • A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell. 
  • Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws, or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space. 
  • Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.
  • A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Don’t feed this type of bear; instead, stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.
  • Get out your bear spray, and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away. 
  • If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles, and even bare hands.

Colorado bear facts:

  • Colorado bear species: Black bear (colors range from cinnamon, blonde, brown, and grayish).
  • Number of bears put down in 2022 in Colorado: 94 bears.
  • Number of bears relocated in 2002: 59 bears.
  • Euthanizations happen primarily because of human conflict. For example, a bear enters a home where it doesn’t belong, live stock depredation, and lastly, roadkill is the smallest number.
  • Weight of a male bear: 250-275 pounds, occasionally up to 300 pounds.
  • Weight of a female bear: 175 pounds.
  • CPW received 4,282 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears in 2022 – a 16% increase from 2021 and a 1.3% decrease from the previous two years. 

Bare numbers in our region:

  • April 1-Nov. 30, 2022: Euthanizations: 18 bears. Roadkill: 45 bears.
  • April 1-Nov. 30, 2021: Euthanizations: 15 bears. Roadkill: 24 bears.
  • April 1-Nov. 30, 2020: Euthanizations: 13 bears. Roadkill: 24 bears.
  • April 1-Nov. 30, 2019: Euthanizations: 16 bears. Roadkill: none listed, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. This measure not added until late 2019, early 2020. 

There is also a great opportunity for local governments, non-government organizations, homeowners associations, community groups, businesses, tribes, universities, and individuals who are all eligible to receive grants between $50,000 and $500,000 to help reduce bear conflicts. 

The deadline to apply is May 5. More can be found at cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeWildBears.aspx.

By: Julie Bielenberg | The Aspen Times \ April 19, 2023

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