A Hungry Black Bear

Black Bear Safety in Spring Time

Each year in Colorado dozens of bears must be relocated or euthanized because of conflicts with humans. The number of euthanized bears over the past decade has averaged 55 bears per year, with that number growing as the human population continues to grow.  But the problem is not just in Colorado, there are an estimated 300,000 black bears in 40 states across the United States, and human-bear encounters are increasing every year as both populations continue to grow.  I couldn’t find a national total of bears that are destroyed each year, I’m almost afraid to know.

Any ethical outdoorsman or woman will tell you how sad it is to hear about wildlife having to be destroyed like this.  Of course we understand the need for human safety, and of course we believe that our wildlife biologists and wildlife management departments are doing all they can to prevent this, but often times these conflicts can be avoided by following a few simple steps. I am asking you to do your part to keep bears out of trouble, and to share this knowledge with your family and friends.

At this time of year bears have awakened from their winter hibernation and are searching for food.  It is important to note that in states where the food supply is constant and the weather is mild, bears will not hibernate, so they are active all year, except for sows that are pregnant.  But in places where bears hibernate, spring time is when they emerge from their slumber, having lost 25 – 40% of their body weight during hibernation.  The bears are hungry and looking for easy meals, and are often drawn to towns, residences and campgrounds for a quick source of food. Once a bear identifies a location as an easy food source they will return over and over again, which is why it’s important to not attract them to the area in the first place.

Colorado has a two-strike policy for bears. The first time a bear becomes persistent in its search for food near humans, it may be trapped, tagged and taken to a remote area to be released. The bear that Kyle and I encountered in our camp in The Flat Tops Wilderness Area one year had a yellow tag in each ear.  I’m not sure what that meant, and I wasn’t really thinking about that as I stood face to face with him only ten yards away growling and popping his jaws at me.  Luckily I was able to chase him off, but that’s another story.  I think back then, about 9 years ago, we had a three strike policy in place.  But now if the bear gets in trouble again, it is destroyed. Sometimes, however, if a bear shows very aggressive behavior on a first encounter it can be euthanized.

“Destroying a bear is never an easy decision for a wildlife officer,” said Abbie Walls, public information officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “But human health and safety is always our number one priority. That being said, if humans take just a few minutes out of their day to do what is right, we could really cut down on the amount of conflicts we have every year.”


A Big Black Bear

Bears are not typically aggressive towards people, but may become so if food is present. If you see a bear do not approach it (as I did), but rather encourage it to leave the area by yelling, throwing rocks, or spraying water at it from a safe distance. However if food continues to be present, they will likely return.  I did throw rocks at this particular bear I mentioned, but he was pretty content lying across the bag of horse oats that he was eating.  I wrote another informative article on bear safety which you can read by clicking here.

For those of us who live in areas where bears may be present, there are some simple things that we can do to help keep bears from getting into trouble.  Follow these tips:

  • Keep garbage in a well-secured location, and only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.  Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free.
  • 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 should be brought in at this time of year — birds don’t need to be fed during the summer.
  • Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food and they’ll eat anything.
  • 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.
  • Always close garage doors.
  • Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.
  • Do not keep food in your car and lock the doors.
  • Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.

Black Bear Up Close

Maybe if we all do our part with the little things, as well as educate the people around us, we might be able to keep a few bears from an untimely death, not to mention our own personal safety.  As outdoors people, even though we hunt, we still care about the animals more than those that don’t hunt, and I am very proud of what hunters have been able to do for the wildlife populations in our country.  The black bear is another success story, so let’s do what we can to keep it that way.