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Colorado’s springs and summers bring bears with them, emerging from hibernation. As the weather warms, wildlife offices across the state have begun getting reports of bear sightings. In 2020, there were 4,943 bear reports, including 1,075 reports from the Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) Southeast region, which includes Chaffee County.

“Please remember,” says Steve McClung, assistant area wildlife manager for CPW in Durango, “we’re getting back into the season when bears are active. So please, secure your trash and take down the bird feeders.”

While research shows bears prefer natural food sources, they will find human-provided food if it’s available. If and when bears become accustomed to human food sources, they can become a danger to people.

“Bears really think with their stomachs,” says Salida East District Wildlife Manager Kim Woodruff. “And then, once they’re rewarded, it’s hard to break that habit. If that bear has young, they learn the same traits based on what their mom taught them, so it’s really important to try to minimize any kind of reward that the bears might be able to get from people.”

CPW also urges folks to report bear problems to local wildlife offices as soon as they occur. Reporting problems early gives CPW officers a range of options for handling the bear, like finding and removing attracting food sources, working with residents to correct the problem, and setting strategies to push the bear back into wild areas or trap and relocate it if necessary. Choices become limited the longer residents wait to report the bear.

“We try to educate people as much as possible and get as much information out to try to remedy the problem, and it just takes people being on the same page with their trash and feeding their pets outside and things like that,” Woodruff says. “If you have a bear problem, by all means, please call us and we’ll try to go over bear-aware tactics with people, the public. We try not to have to ever trap a bear. We have that option, but that’s really a very last resort option.”

“The last thing we want to do is put down a bear, every wildlife officer absolutely hates doing that,” McClung says. “So don’t hesitate to call us as soon as you see any bad behavior, even if it appears minor. That gives us a much better opportunity to correct the situation early.”

CPW recommends a number of steps to prevent wildlife conflicts.

At home:

  • Keep garbage and compost piles in a secure location, and only put out the trash on the mornings of pickups.
  • Clean cans regularly, and use bear-resistant cans or dumpsters. Additionally, if secure storage isn’t available, put more odorous items in the freezer until trash day.
  • Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside, and remember to take down hummingbird and bird feeders. Wait until late November to rehang feeders.
  • Do not feed wildlife like deer or turkey, and don’t allow bears to become habituated around your home. Scare the bear off if you see one near the house.
  • Burn grease off grills and eliminate odors by letting them burn for a few extra minutes and cleaning after each use. Clean up thoroughly after outdoor meals.
  • If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe, and don’t let fruit rot on the ground.
  • Keep small livestock in fully covered enclosures, and construct electric fencing if possible. Keep them closed to minimize odors and hang rags soaked in ammonia or Pine-Sol around the enclosure.
  • Install electric fencing around beehives where allowed.
  • Keep garage doors closed, and talk to your neighbors and children about being bear-aware.

Cars, travel, campsites:

  • Lock doors at night and when you’re away from home. Keep bottom floor windows closed when not at home.
  • Don’t keep food in your vehicle. Close the windows and lock the doors, as well.
  • When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle when away from the campsite.
  • Keep your site clean whether in a campground or the backcountry. In the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite, and don’t keep food in your tent. Cook far from tents and wash dishes thoroughly.

For more information, see CPW’s Living with Wildlife section online: Call your nearest CPW office if you have questions or need to report bear problems.