Being Bear Aware
Bearproofing Your Home
Camping and Hiking In Bear Country
DENVER - Colorado Parks and Wildlife received 3,644 bear reports from April 1 through Aug. 31, 2020, down slightly from the 3,855 over the same timeframe the previous year. However, that number is expected to grow rapidly as bears are now in hyperphagia, the period when bruins are preparing for hibernation and spend up to 20 hours a day on the hunt for 20,000 or more daily calories.
Most of the reports involve bears trying to access human food sources and as we enter this fall period of hyper bruin activity, CPW is calling on residents to remove attractants to reduce conflicts and keep you and the bears safe.
"As fall approaches, people can think of bears as basically a four-legged walking stomach,” said District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Joe Nicholson out of the Evergreen district. “They are biologically driven to pack on calories in preparation for winter and they spend increasing time looking for the most efficient way to do so. Residents must realize it is their responsibility to secure their trash, remove other food attractants such as bird feeders, and protect backyard livestock with appropriate electric fencing to avoid conflicts that arise from attracting bears to homes."
CPW promotes Bear Aware principles all year long, aiming to minimize interactions that put both humans and bears at risk. Being “Bear Aware” includes easy-to-execute behaviors such as securing trash cans and dumpsters, removing bird feeders, closing garages, cleaning and locking your car and house doors and calling CPW when bears become a nuisance.
Drought conditions and other factors that may influence the availability of natural food crops for bears varies across the state, as does the behavior of people when it relates to human-bear interactions. Those all play a role in the bear activity that we see annually. Below is a localized perspective on current bear activity across the state.
Area 1 - Western Jefferson County, Gilpin, Clear Creek and Park Counties
“Mast crops in most cases are in pretty good shape even with the drought. That said, you would think bear conflicts would be declining, but that is not the case. It shows humans are causing the main problem(s). The lack of securing trash, removing bird and hummingbird feeders continue to be the biggest problem. We do still have reports of people intentionally attracting bears. We recently saw a 400-plus pound bear killed by a car near Pine.” ~ Mark Lamb Area 1 Wildlife Manager
Area 2 - Boulder County, Broomfield, the southern portion of Larimer County including Loveland, portions of southwestern Weld County
“Human-bear interactions have been very high this year in Area 2. Trash, bird seed, beehives, livestock, tents, homes, cabins and garages have all been targets. We have also had two minor attacks in Estes Park over the summer in campgrounds with dog food being the major attractant. The public must haze bears early using whatever methods they are comfortable with (noise, bear spray, etc.) as well as call CPW or their local law enforcement agency to report the incident so that we can respond effectively.” ~ Jason Duetsch, Area 2 Wildlife Manager
Area 3 - No reported bear activity in northeast Colorado
Area 4 - Larimer and Weld Counties
“We are in drought conditions here as well and this has led to a lower level of berry production and other mast production for bears. This has led to an increase in bear activity and conflict. We have had several bears within the city limits of Fort Collins and have seen an increase in bear conflicts within the subdivisions in the foothills and higher elevations. We are also seeing an increase in bear break-ins at homes within those subdivisions. Most of the source of conflict is trash, hummingbird feeders and pet food.” ~ Jason Surface, Area 4 Wildlife Manager
Area 5 - Denver Metro Area Counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Jefferson and portions of Broomfield County)
“Bear activity and human conflict continues to be an issue. Residents should be reminded to secure their trash and not put it out until the morning of trash pickup. Residents are also reminded to close their garage doors, lock their cars and remove bird feeders/hummingbird feeders to prevent bears from becoming habituated. Drought conditions exist in most of Area 5 and natural food sources for bears remain inconsistent across the area. Residents are also reminded that feeding bears is illegal and creates a public safety issue.” ~ Matt Martinez, Area 5 Wildlife Manager
Area 6 - Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties
“Area 6 human conflicts are not too common. Most of our issues deal with livestock, mostly sheep, getting killed by bears on public lands all summer long.” ~ Bill de Vergie, Area 6 Wildlife Manager
Area 7 - Grand Junction; Mesa and Garfield Counties
“In Grand Junction this year we’ve seen a bit more activity on the agricultural fringes of town. Some of that may be bears moving around with the fire activity north of town but certainly more is related to dry conditions in traditional bear habitat along the slopes of the Mesa, Monument, and Bookcliffs. Recent cooler weather can be a help and we’re encouraging everyone to make sure that attractants like trash, bird feeders, and barbecue grills are properly stored to not attract bears. If residents see bears in urban areas or have bears creating issues in the rural areas, please reach out to the local CPW office so we can prevent serious problems before they happen.” - Kirk Oldham, Area 7 Wildlife Manager
Area 8 - Aspen, Glenwood Springs; Eagle and Pitkin Counties
“Locally for us we've seen a rollercoaster of activity. COVID has restricted public gatherings and restaurant activity, which has resulted in less conflict in the urban core of Aspen. However, the same virus has also prompted an increase in visitation of campgrounds and on trails. This summer we've seen a significant amount of conflict with outdoor recreators. Mother nature has provided pockets of natural forage for bears in chokecherries and acorns, but we still need people to do their part. Even in the best natural food years, humans can create problems for bears.” ~ Matt Yamashita, Area 8 Wildlife Manager
Area 9 - Breckenridge, Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby; Grand and Summit Counties
“It has been an active year in Middle Park and we’re really seeing big trash problems in some communities. We’ve put down several bears that learned to break into homes in the search for food and we’ve relocated other bears that were being taught to get into trash by lazy human actions. With fall arriving, bears are getting more active and it’s even more important that people live responsibly in the mountains.” - Jeromy Huntington, Area 9 Wildlife Manager
Area 10 - Steamboat Springs; Jackson and Routt Counties
“We started off the summer season on a high note with the City of Steamboat Springs adopting an ordinance for bear resistant trash containers. It’s a staged implementation and it will take a couple of years to get implemented but just the passage of the ordinance has increased awareness of the issue in town and in other areas. So far the year has been steady and we’re hoping that we can make it through fall with continued public support for keeping attractants away from bears.” - Kris Middledorf, Area 10 Wildlife Manager
Area 11 - Pueblo, Trinidad, Southcentral Colorado
“It’s been an average year. We had quite a few calls during July. It picked up. But now there are good acorns and chokecherries and other native fruit. It’s slowed down now. We have very few calls except for a few problem areas. They’ve diverted to acorns. Drought has made it a higher year for bears in Pueblo. In a normal year we move one bear from Pueblo. This year, we’ve moved five and we have one still running around we intend to catch and move. The Wet Valley has been a hot pocket. Rosita. Colorado City and Rye, Cucharras and La Veta. Trinidad always has issues.” - Mike Trujillo, Area 11 Wildlife Manager
Area 12 - only one bear report in southeast Colorado, coming from Las Animas County near the town of Villegreen.
Area 13 - Chaffee, Fremont and Lake Counties
“Things are picking up especially around Buena Vista, Salida and Canon City. The bear activity now centers on fruit trees and garbage. We have a tremendous apple crop this year. We’re encouraging people to pick their apples and remove that attractant. We’ve seen a slight increase in bear activity in the last couple weeks. We really haven’t trapped and moved any. We’re trying to reduce attractants and not get hands-on with them. We’re hazing them. No pyrotechnics. We’re using rubber buckshot. It’s so dry. Grass is dry. There’s limited mast production. We do have some areas with good acorns. That’s helping alleviate the problem north of Canon City. The same is true in the Cotopaxi/Howard area. That’s helping us.” Jim Aragon, Area 13 Wildlife Manager
Area 14 - Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs; El Paso and Teller Counties
“We've had drought, some localized forage loss due to hail, and have had a relatively busy year for human-bear conflicts. We have a new trash ordinance that went into effect in March in part of Colorado Springs. Response to the ordinance has been positive, and I think has helped keep things manageable this year. The city has dedicated one code enforcement officer to respond to complaints related to the ordinance, and the city has received approximately 200 calls on trash complaints. City Code enforcement and District Wildlife Managers have been doing a lot of education.” ~ Area 14 Wildlife Manager Frank McGee
Area 15 - Durango
“In our area, unsecured trash and bird feeders continue to be the most common attractants. We have also had more reports of bears entering buildings looking for food. As bears try to put on more weight before winter, it is critical that people take precautions to remove attractants and secure their properties.” ~ Matt Thorpe, Area 15 Wildlife Manager
Area 16 - Gunnison Basin, North Fork Valley
“In Area 16 we are and have been experiencing drought conditions. With a few exceptions we have had very little moisture most of the summer, so natural food sources are minimal and scattered. Higher elevations are doing a little better and not having as many conflicts. Gunnison and Lake City are experiencing frequent bear conflicts as bears have been much more active in seeking alternative food sources. Much of this has involved human trash and unsecured vehicles. The clear answer is store trash in a secure building until trash day, preferably use a bear proof trash container, keep vehicles closed and locked.” ~ J Wenum, Area 16 Wildlife Manager. Wenum retired on Aug. 31 after a 36-year career with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Area 17 - San Luis Valley
“The San Luis Valley, like the rest of southwest Colorado, is experiencing exceptional drought conditions. Coupled with a late frost, the bear conflicts are up this year across the valley, with bears showing up in places that residents normally don’t see bears. They aren’t ‘bear aware’ and bears are finding food rewards in these areas. Multiple orphan/abandoned cubs have been reported and DWM’s have caught several of those, and relayed to Frisco Creek. Mountain towns that normally have a bear or two each summer have seen large increases in conflicts as well. With little monsoonal rain, the poor conditions will most likely persist into the fall.” ~ Jeremy Gallegos, District Wildlife Manager in South Fork, Area 17
Area 18 - Incorporating Montrose, Delta, Mesa Ouray and San Miguel Counties
“The acorns on the scrub oak have come on very strong in the last couple of weeks and our phones have stopped ringing. A late spring frost killed some berry crops and there was some bear activity in June and July, but not as much as in some past years. The acorn crop will sustain most bears well into the fall," said Matt Ortgea, acting area wildlife manager for Area 18. He also said that bears are finding plenty of food in stands of juniper and pinion tress. Those trees are showing good crops of berries and nuts.
But even with natural sources of food being plentiful, Ortega said that people must continue to practice standard bear-aware habits.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers a reminder that by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid human/wildlife conflicts and help to keep bears wild.
Here are helpful tips to prevent conflicts:
- Keep garbage in a well-secured location.
- Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
- Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free.
- Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster; available from your trash hauler or on the Internet.
- If you don't have secure storage, put items that might become smelly into the freezer until trash day.
- Don't leave pet food or stock feed outside.
- Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.
- If you must have bird feeders: clean up beneath them every day, bring them in at night, and hang them high so that they're completely inaccessible to bears.
- Do not attract other wildlife by feeding them, such as deer, turkeys or small mammals.
- Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, yell at them, throw things at them, make noise to scare them off.
- Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food -- and they'll eat anything.
- Bears have good memories and will return to places they’ve found food.
- Allow grills to burn for a couple of minutes after cooking to burn off grease and to eliminate odors. Clean the grill after each use.
- Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck. Don't allow food odors to linger.
- If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe. Don't allow fruit to rot on the ground.
- Keep garage doors closed.
- Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.
- Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you're not at home.
- Do not keep food in your vehicle; roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.
- When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle after you’ve eaten.
- Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the back-country.
- When camping in the back-country, hang food 100 feet or more from campsite; don’t bring any food into your tent
- Cook food well away from your tent; wash dishes thoroughly.
- Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.
- If you keep small livestock, keep animals in a fully covered enclosure that is electrified. Don’t stock store food outside, keep enclosures clean to minimize odors, hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure.
- If you have bee hives, install electric fencing where allowed.
For more information go to the Living with Wildlife section on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife web site: cpw.state.co.us.
Bottom left: A sow and its cubs attracted near a home with hanging bird feeders.
Bottom right: A bear up a tree in a Littleton backyard (photo by Jason Clay/CPW)