It’s that time of year again, when all of us at Colorado Parks and Wildlife are asking you to do everything you can to keep bears wild.
I’m happy to say that communities in Southwest Colorado are aware of bear issues and we’re working together: the city of Durango continues to distribute bear-resistant trash cans; La Plata County is enforcing a new wildlife-conflict ordinance; and BearSmart is carrying on its public outreach work. Ongoing efforts and awareness are what’s needed to minimize human-bear conflicts.
But we can’t rely only on ordinances and better trash cans to reduce negative interactions with bears. We’re asking everyone to take a look around now to make sure their trash is secure, their bird feeders are down and that food items that can attract bears are eliminated. We know that bears prefer to dine on what nature provides, but they won’t hesitate to grab an easy meal from a garbage can, a bird feeder or a backyard chicken pen.
A specific issue that CPW is concerned about is this: Some residents choose not to call our office when a bear starts to cause problems in a neighborhood. Their concern is that as soon as CPW is notified, the bear will be euthanized.
That is definitely not the case.
A lot of bear issues start with small incidents – a bear is knocking over trash cans or is snooping around a yard or hanging around an alley. Those things would not prompt a wildlife officer to set a trap. But if we’re told about it, we will go to the area and assess the situation. More than likely, there’s a food source that is keeping a bear in an area – bird feeders, pet food left outside, trash cans not properly locked, etc. Once we find that source of potential conflict, we can speak to a resident and request changes. Or we might be able to haze the bear out of the area, or relocate it.
In other words, if we’re called early, CPW’s wildlife officers have more options available to them for how a situation can be handled.
But if we do not get a call until a bear is breaking into buildings or acting aggressively toward people, we lose all options. Human safety is always our top priority. If a bear is acting aggressively or appears unafraid of people, we are required to euthanize that animal. We absolutely hate to do that; it’s the last thing we want to do and it’s a terrible task for a wildlife officer. Sometimes we have no choice.
We also know that there are neighborhoods where bears are just passing through on their way to water or natural food sources and are causing no problems. While we love to see bears as much as anyone, you don’t need to call us if that’s happening in your neighborhood. But don’t get complacent; make sure the bear is not welcome. We appreciate that folks in Southwest Colorado are tolerant of wildlife. But if you’re seeing small problems, those are likely to grow. So please, call us. Only then can we work on the problem together.
Southwest Colorado is also home to a lot of new residents, so talk to your neighbors about being bear aware and suggest that they call CPW’s Durango office if they have questions.
People often ask us, “How many bears are there in this area?” Because bears are solitary and elusive, we can’t count them. But using techniques developed over the decades by biologists, we estimate there are about 3,000 bears that inhabit the area stretching from Wolf Creek Pass to the Utah border. So the vast majority of bears in our area live in the wild. But it only takes one bear to cause a lot of problems in a neighborhood.
We will be seeing an increase in bear activity in the coming months. Here are a few tips on avoiding conflicts:
Take down bird feeders; hang them back up in mid-November and take them down in April. Bird feeders are a major source of bear conflicts.Keep trash secured until the morning of pickup. If you have items that could get smelly, put them in a plastic bag in your freezer until pickup day.Follow the instructions to properly use bear-resistant trash cans.Keep garage doors closed; bears have a nasty habit of finding their way into a house through the garage – and they usually can’t find their way out.Keep doors to your vehicles locked and the windows rolled up. If there are any food odors in your car, you might get an unwelcome and very expensive visit.Do not feed wildlife.Pick fruit off trees as soon as possible. Pruning techniques employed by bears are not highly refined.If you feed pets outside, don’t leave food or bowls out after they’ve eaten.If you have chickens or other small livestock, build a completely enclosed pen.When camping, don’t leave any food or coolers out when you’re not at camp. Lock them in your vehicle or camper.And please, feel free to call us with any wildlife questions at 247-0855.
Matt Thorpe is the wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango.