How to: Follow these smart, practical tips to bear-proof your home and property and avoid bear encounters
These tips shouldn't be taken for granted
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Near the end of June this year, the Steamboat Springs Police Department already had received over 100 calls regarding bears — either digging into trash or sneaking into people’s homes and cars.
What people might not realize is that many bear encounters are totally avoidable by following just a few easy steps to secure their homes and property. With the thick of bear season upon us, it’s important for residents and tourists to remain vigilant about local bears.
The biggest draw to bears in Steamboat is an unsecured dumpster or trash bin as it gives bears an easy meal. It’s a common yet avoidable situation. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has assembled a list of reminders and guidelines to follow to ensure you’re being bear aware.
Keep bears out
- Many bears that enter homes do so through an unlocked or open window or door. Close and lock all bear-accessible windows and doors when you leave the house, and at night before you go to bed.
- If you must leave downstairs windows open, install sturdy grates or bars. Screens don’t keep bears out.
- Keep garage doors and windows closed and locked at night and when you’re not home. Don’t leave your garage door standing open when you’re not outside. Install extra-sturdy doors if you have a freezer, refrigerator, pet food, bird seed or other attractants in your garage.
- Keep car doors and windows closed and locked if you park outside. Make sure there’s nothing with an odor in your vehicle, including candy, gum, air fresheners, trash, lotions and lip balms.
- Bears are great climbers — remove any tree limbs that might provide access to upper-level decks and windows.
- Replace exterior lever-style door handles with good quality round door knobs that bears can’t pull or push open.
- Put on talk radio (not music) when you leave home; the human voice startles most bears.
Get rid of attractants
- Bears follow their super-sensitive noses to anything that smells like food, and can follow scents from up to 5 miles away.
- Don’t leave trash out overnight unless it’s in a bear-proof enclosure or container.
- Feed birds only when bears are hibernating.
- Don’t store food of any kind in an unlocked garage, flimsy shed or on or under your deck.
- Don’t leave anything with an odor outside, near open windows or in your vehicle, even if you’re home. That includes scented candles, air fresheners, soaps and lotions.
Teach bears they’re not welcome
- If a bear comes into your yard or close to your home, scare it away. A confident attitude plus loud noises like a firm yell, clapping your hands, banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn sends most bears running.
- If a bear enters your home, open doors and windows and make sure it can leave the same way it got in. Don’t approach the bear or block escape routes.
- Never approach a bear. If a bear won’t leave, call your local Parks and Wildlife office. If a bear presents an immediate threat to human safety, call 911.
How to deter bears
Bears are always on the lookout for food sources. Bears that have been rewarded with an easy meal for poking their nose into someone’s bird feeder, garbage can or garage will often investigate any similar food sources in their home range. Deterrents can be useful in areas where bears have already learned that where there are people, there is usually easily accessible food. The purpose of a deterrent is to make your home less attractive and persuade an exploring bear to move on.
- A bear may be sufficiently startled by flashing lights, noise makers, alarms and sprinkler systems to leave the area the first time, but if nothing else happens to reinforce the experience, studies show, like most wildlife, bears will learn to ignore these type of devices. Still, the commotion can alert you to the presence of an intruder of some sort.
- If you’re reviewing options, products that randomly produce a different noise each time they’re activated or have lights that flash in different patterns may be more effective than something with a single repetitive sound or a light that simply comes on for several minutes.
- Leaving a radio tuned to a talk show can make it sound like someone is home and may persuade bears to leave the area. It’s the human voice that does the trick; music doesn’t seem to have any effect. If you’ll be gone for an extended period of time, you can put a radio on a timer. Some people have found this to be an effective technique in chicken coops, as well.
- A bear’s nose is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s. Bleach or ammonia-based cleaners are good for trash cans and other areas where strong scents could attract bears. Some people have had some success with covered buckets or other containers filled with bleach or ammonia, with holes punched in the lids to let the scent out, placed outside bear-accessible doors and windows.
- Bears also dislike the strong scent of pine-based cleaners, but avoid using anything with a fresh, lemony or fruity smell. And never mix bleach and ammonia; the combination produces fumes that can be deadly to both people and bears.
- Warning: Ammonia can blind bears. Some sources recommend ammonia-filled balloons covered with honey or peanut butter as a deterrent; theoretically when the bear tries to bite the balloon, it gets a face full of ammonia instead of a treat. But an eyeful of ammonia or bleach is more than a deterrent as it can seriously injure or blind a bear.
- Bear spray is not a deterrent. Bear pepper spray is meant for defensive use in a close encounter with a bear that has escalated into a charge. Unfortunately, spraying bear spray on things you’d like bears to avoid doesn’t work — when the spray dries, the pepper residue left behind mellows out and creates odors that can actually attract bears.
- Ordinary chain-link, wood or vinyl fencing won’t keep bears out. Bears are great climbers and can easily scoot up and over fencing if there’s something on the other side they really want. Black bears are also good diggers and can tunnel underneath fencing, as well.
- If you can’t store your garbage inside a sturdy, locked building, a heavy-duty chain-link fenced enclosure with a chain-link “roof,” concrete pad bottom, and locking (not latching) gate can help keep out your average bears — but smells will still attract them, as well as other wildlife, so you will need to be extra vigilant and make sure there are no other food sources around.
- In areas with high bear activity, it’s better to secure trash inside the house, in a sturdy locked garage, or specially constructed outbuilding with concrete or cinder block construction with heavy duty wood or steel doors and roof. Sides need to be flush with the ground, with no more than a 2-inch gap at the bottom of the doors. Ventilation holes should be kept to a minimum and covered with heavy-gauge steel mesh.
- A properly installed and maintained electric fence is an excellent bear deterrent, and proven to be effective at turning back bears.
- Unwelcome mats are typically made of sheets of sturdy plywood that have been carefully studded with small nails pointing up that can be placed in front of bear-accessible doors and windows. They’ve been shown to be very effective at deterring bears, and are sometimes used to protect summer and vacation homes when owners are away.
Follow this easy checklist to make sure you’re following the proper procedures when being bear aware:
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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