Spring has sprung, as have the region’s hibernating black bears. It’s once again crucial that High Country residents plan accordingly for the awakening of the state’s largest carnivore.
Even though it still may primarily look and feel like winter in the mountains on any given day, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has already received three calls of bear activity in Summit County. To date, there have been two incidents of bears knocking over trashcans and pets chasing them away in the Wildernest subdivision near the town of Silverthorne and another in the town of Dillon.
“They’re starting to come out now because we’ve had decent weather,” said Tom Davies, CPW district wildlife manager in Silverthorne. “Initially, they’re not a problem because they’re not looking for trash but looking for fresh plants, grass and vegetation. By the time May or June runs around, these guys can handle anything they can find.”
With that in mind, CPW recommends that both locals and visitors take the necessary precautions to dissuade bears from coming around neighborhoods. Following the use of barbecue grills, for example, all food and seasonings should be completely burned off.
Trash receptacles should be kept indoors, but, if it’s a large dumpster or has to stay outside, storing garbage in a place where bears cannot access it is essential. Trash can also be bear-proofed by spraying ammonia in and around receptacles. Additionally, bird-seed feeders can also entice bears.
Take these precautions, according to wildlife officials, because a bear’s life is at stake. If a bear shows up to the same area or is aggressive twice — even if a human being is at fault — the animal will be killed.
“We want to stress that this is not only something that keeps people safe, but it keeps bears safe, too,” explained Mike Porras, CPW’s public information officer for the Northwest region. “The first time we trap it, tag it and relocate, but, if a similar situation occurs, by policy, it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll put it down, which we’re trying to avoid.”
There are no longer any known grizzly bears in Colorado, so black bears are the biggest meat-eaters to be aware of. They can range in color from blond, brown to dark black, each often with a tan snout or white spot on the chest. They can be massive, though.
Adult males, known as boars, usually weigh in at around 275 pounds but can get as big as 450 pounds, 3-feet high on all fours, and 5-feet tall standing on hinds. Females, referred to as sows, are typically about 175 pounds — but can be just as fierce, especially if tending to cubs, which first emerge from the den in early- to late-May.
“Bears are not hunting humans,” said Porras, “but they are large and very powerful animals. If you surprise or corner one, a bear can react in such a way that a person can be severally injured.”
Misinformation about bears frequently results in phone calls to CPW over sightings of the animal just walking around. However, residents should not be concerned — nor alert authorities — unless they get into the trash or are regularly hanging around neighborhoods.
“They’re usually not (aggressive),” re-iterated Davies, “unless they’re protecting their young. But you can always have that weird time where you have a big issue. It doesn’t happen often, or that they go after a pet, but we don’t want that one time to be anywhere near here.”
Still, black bears are naturally curious, highly intelligent and particularly resourceful, especially when in search of food sources. Immediately upon waking from hibernation, bears aren’t ordinarily drawn toward trash or food scraps because they need greens and roughage to unplug their systems following upwards of five months of being dormant. After their gut becomes normalized again, though, they can stomach almost anything they find.
That said, if they do locate easy meals near homes, vehicles or campgrounds — even just once — it can change a bear’s habits, and they almost certainly return again, and are more than capable of major property damage. On the other hand, if abundant food is not discovered in an area, bears generally move on.
For those taking advantage of camping at elevation, Davies simply recommends using common-sense practices regarding all wildlife. Meaning: Keep food unavailable and out of reach for bears, such as in a locked vehicle. Bear-proof coolers and smaller canisters are also a good idea.
“Be bear-smart,” he said. “You live in the mountains, don’t be dumb.”