Bears in Colorado foraging for extra food

Bears in Colorado are entering a period called hyperphagia, a state induced by the need for...
Bears in Colorado are entering a period called hyperphagia, a state induced by the need for food to fuel hibernation in winter months.(anoldent / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 5:52 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Black bears in Colorado are entering hyperphagia, which is where they experience an increase in appetite to prepare for hibernation. Bears will spend up to 20 hours a day attempting to eat over 20,000 calories a day in preparation for winter. As they hunt for food, Coloradans may see more bear activity in urban areas.

Most issues between bears and people trace back to easily accessible human food, trash, fruit trees, shrubs, and other attractants with strong odors.

This time of year, it isn’t uncommon for bears to allow their natural drive for food to overcome their fear of humans. When bears become too comfortable around people, they can destroy property or even become a threat to human safety.

In May, much of Colorado suffered a hard freeze. This caused a loss of many food sources in areas above 7,000 feet in elevation. Joined with the drought across Colorado, this will cause bears to be persistently searching for their much-needed calories to survive the year.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) most reported culprits to attracting bears are trash, bird seed, pet food, and barbeque grills. Removing attractants can help minimize conflicts and encounters with black bears. It’s incredibly critical that people are extra vigilant and proactive in removing all attractants from homes and campsites.

A black bear’s natural diet consists of berries, fruits, nuts, plants, and grasses that grow naturally in the forests and foothills. Due to drought conditions, food sources have been reduced.

“Research shows that bears prefer natural sources of food. But they will find sources of human-provided food if it’s available, when natural food sources are limited, which can become dangerous to humans,” said CPW Northwest Region Senior Wildlife Biologist Brad Banulis. “Preventing bears from relying on human food sources takes a community effort, and it’s important that we all take proactive steps to limit human food sources in order to avoid any possible conflicts with bears and bearproof our homes.”

CPW offers these tips and precautions to help you prevent human and wildlife conflicts that can also save a bear’s life.

When bearproofing your home:

  • Keep garbage in a well-secured area, and only put it out on the morning of pickup.
  • Keep garbage cans free of odors, ammonia is effective.
  • Use bear-resistant trash cans and dumpsters.
  • Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.
  • Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to November 15. Instead, use flowers and bird baths to attract them. Bird feeders are a common cause of bear/human conflicts.
  • Do not attract other wildlife with food, such as deer, turkeys, or small mammals.
  • Don’t allow bears to become comfortable near your home. If you see one, yell at it, throw things at it, make noise to scare it away.
  • Thoroughly clean up after picnics and clean the grill after each use.
  • If you have fruit trees, ensure that fruit does not rot on the ground. make sure compost piles are secure. Bears are attracted to rotting food.
  • If you keep small livestock, keep animals in a fully covered enclosure. Construct electric fencing if possible. Keep livestock food inside, keep enclosures clean to minimize odors, and hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol near the enclosures.
  • If you keep beehives, install electric fencing where permitted.
  • Keep garage doors closed.
  • Talk to neighbors and children about being bear aware.

In cars, when traveling, and at campsites:

  • Keep doors and bottom floor windows locked when away and at night.
  • Do not keep food in vehicles; roll up windows and lock doors. If you have no choice, keep food in a cooler inside a locked vehicle.
  • Keep a clean camp, whether in a campground or in backcountry. When in backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from your campsite; do not bring food in to your tent.
  • Cook food and wash dishes away from your tent.

CPW asks residents and visitors to help protect Colorado’s bears by being actively bear aware throughout the summer and fall seasons. Bear conflicts and, unfortunately, bear euthanization, is most commonly traced back to human behavior. It is our responsibility to be mindful of our impacts so we can minimize the risk to humans and bears alike.

More information on bears in Colorado can be found on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. Questions can be answered and problems regarding bears can be addressed by calling your closest CPW office.

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