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A black bear checking out a grill

Human Encounters with Bears  It’s hard to believe that it’s August, it’s that time of year when we start to realize that fall is not that far away.  Many of us are preparing for the archery deer and elk seasons, or planning some fall fishing trips, or sharpening our skills on the rifle or trap ranges.  Yes, the hunting seasons are near!  For wildlife, they are preparing for the coming winter, trying to fatten up as much as they can over the next few months.  While this makes for some great fishing, it also increases encounters between humans and bears as the bears are looking for food anywhere they can find it.

In Colorado alone there have been several incidents already this summer of human encounters with bears, home invasions, and even an attack on a teenage camper in Boulder County last month.  While the encounters seem unprovoked or random, a typical precursor in most incidents is a general lack of knowledge about wildlife, or a willful disregard for a few basic rules.   Bears are just doing what comes naturally to them; they are driven by hunger and instinct.  On the other hand, humans have a choice in how they behave, and it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about bear safety and take appropriate actions.

In addition to the safety factor, what so many people don’t understand is that their actions often lead to the death of a bear.  Parks & Wildlife officers will always put the safety of the human population ahead of that of wildlife, which is part of their job; although having to kill a bear or other animal is that part of their job they dislike the most.  What really irritates me is when people say something like “Oh that poor bear, why did they have to kill it?” People who say things like that are not educated about wildlife conservation, and they are likely the ones who do stupid things that eventually lead to the death of a bear.

You can see a video here of a bear that broke into a house and spent five hours rummaging through things while the home owner was asleep in his bedroom.  If you look at the comments below the video you can see just how ignorant people are about this issue.  Here is another video with the same type of comments (I apologize for the profanity in the comments).

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A black bear with a bird feeder

Perry Will, a wildlife manager with the Colorado Parks & Wildlife said this about what people can do to prevent these types of conflicts: “It’s actually fairly simple – keep your food away from bears,” said Will. “We can’t stress it enough – never, ever feed a bear, whether by leaving your trash out, your lunch in your car, your birdfeeders up or giving it a handout – it’s all the same. Bears are smart and have great memories. If the bear gets into your trash, your car, or crawls through a window you left open and finds a meal, you just put your entire neighborhood in danger; if you’re on a hike and give a bear a handout to get a closer look, you just put all hikers in the area at risk; if you keep a dirty campsite or leave food in your tent or otherwise accessible and you attract a bear, you just jeopardized the safety of all nearby campers.”

Another important tip wildlife officers offer is never let a bear feel comfortable around people.  If a bear comes into your yard and you sit on the porch and watch if for an hour, the bear has now learned it is safe to be around people.  Then it becomes a problem for other residents, and for wildlife managers.  If you see a bear in an area where it is not supposed to be, or it appears comfortable with your presence, wildlife officers recommend immediately making it feel unwelcome. Raise your voice and talk to it firmly, bang pots and pans or throw rocks or sticks toward it and try to drive it away. It may seem cruel but conditioning them to avoid people is the most humane thing the public can do for a bear.

However, if a bear does not respond to hazing or it continues to approach, the first thing to remember is never turn and run. Stand your ground, prepare to take stronger measures and defend yourself with everything you have. That can include using bear spray, punching and kicking the bear as aggressively as possible, hitting it with a sturdy hiking stick, branches, rocks or other makeshift weapons.  Some people may consider using firearms to protect themselves in case of a dangerous wildlife encounter.  However, wildlife officials recommend bear spray as an effective alternative to a gun as the first means of defense.

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A black bear rummaging through trash

As the human population continues to grow and encroach on wildlife habitat, encounters with wildlife will only continue to increase.  It is our responsibility to educate ourselves to help prevent needless destruction of wildlife or potentially human death or injury.  Click here for an excellent source of information about cohabitating with bears.  Please do your part to learn what you should and shouldn’t do in regards to bears, and encourage those around you to do the same.