State officials offer tips to prevent human-bear conflicts

Staff report
A black bear does everything it can to get into trashcans at a home in Routt County. John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

State wildlife officials want to remind residents and visitors that bears are emerging from hibernation and beginning their search for food.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the agency has already received reports of bear activity in 14 Colorado counties this year. Wildlife officials are urging residents to secure any and all attractants, including trash receptacles, bird feeders or other human-provided food sources around homes or businesses.

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, or trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” said Mark Lamb, an area wildlife manager for CPW. “People who think that it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one timers’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

The first bears emerging from their winter dens typically are males followed by females that did not give birth to cubs over winter. The last bears to emerge are the females who gave birth to this year’s cubs, usually in late April.

Early season natural food sources for bears include grasses, aspen buds and other vegetative matter that is beginning to sprout. Those food sources, which are the first crops available to them, help a bear’s digestive system and metabolism adjust back to normal after not consuming anything for months.

“Their bodies are needing to adjust to the fact that they haven’t consumed anything for sometimes six months,” said Mark Vieira, Carnivore and Furbearer Program Manager for CPW. “So there is this phase that is referred to sometimes as walking hibernation, where they are out on the landscape moving slowly and eating what tends to be more vegetative material that starts to pass through their system to get their bodies ready for early summer food sources. That is when they will move back into the typical omnivore diet that we see bears eating the rest of the year.”

Over 90% of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants — native crops all dependant on moisture. Wildlife officials monitor weather patterns in the spring and summer to help determine what natural forage will be available in the summer and fall.

In years when good moisture and natural food sources are abundant, bear conflicts and interactions are down.

Though most human-bear interactions occur in the late summer and fall months, a late frost or prolonged dry weather could lead to localized natural food failures and a rise in conflicts. A lack of natural food availability pushes black bears to be more persistent in their search for human-food sources. Being bear aware not only protects one’s home and property, but it can save a bear’s life.

Tips to prevent bear conflicts

• Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure.

• Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup; bring empty cans back inside before dark.

• Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These are available online or from your trash hauler.

• Clean all garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free. The scent of ammonia can deter bears.

• Take down all bird feeders. Bird feeders were responsible for 1,073 conflicts between 2019-21. Birds have naturally available food sources during the spring, summer and fall.

• Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.

• Install and test electric fencing to protect chicken coops, bee hives or even livestock enclosures.

• Clean all BBQ grills.

• Keep garage doors and windows closed and locked, especially between dusk and dawn.

• Don’t leave attractants such as snacks, food wrappers, gum, or even scented hand lotions in your car; and always lock vehicle doors.

• Use bear boxes or bear-proof containers for food and scented items when camping.

• Don’t leave food outside while camping. If bear boxes aren’t available, buy your own bear canister or leave all food in the trunk of a locked vehicle as your last resort.

• Buy an air horn or bear spray. These tools can help haze bears away.

For more about living with bears in Colorado, visit

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