It’s springtime in the Rockies and the aspens are budding, weather is warming, some flowers are blooming and the bears are awakening. Bears are active and they have one thing on their mind:  food.

Now is the time to be a bit more vigilant to avoid unnecessary encounters with bears. Some people get complacent with their trash and some even let it build up a bit over the winter or store it in outbuildings. It is important and necessary to get rid of all trash that has accumulated. All trash should be put in bear-proof containers and taken to the dump or picked up regularly. 

Ian Petkash, Wildlife Officer for the Lake George district stated, “Leaving trash unsecured is a sure-fire way to end up with a bear visiting your home.”

“Once they get a food reward at a location, they will almost certainly return and can become bolder over time. If you use a trash service, the best way to avoid bear conflict is to secure the trash during the week and only put it outside the morning of trash pickup,” he continued.

It is the time when our hummingbird feeders are placed outside, but they should be taken inside at night; if they hang over railings, wipe the railings with bleach to get rid of the sticky sweet drippings. That smell is a big attractant, and even though it’s not enough food source for a bear, it can cause them to seek food elsewhere around your home. 

“There are many ways to enjoy seeing birds that do not attract bears, including hanging flowering plant pots for the hummingbirds and using nest boxes and bird baths for songbirds,” said Petkash.

Lock your vehicles at night and roll up the windows. Bears have been known to open doors and can make a real mess of your vehicle. Leave windows of your house closed, especially kitchen windows. The aroma from your dinner can attract, and most screens will not stop a bear. Once inside, they will find food.

If you find a bear in your home, call 911 immediately and get out. It is legal to shoot and kill a bear to protect human life. You must notify Parks and Wildlife immediately if this happens.

If a bear has gotten into your trash or attempted to get into your house, car, garage, etc., contact Parks and Wildlife for a solution. The primary tool utilized by wildlife officers used to be relocating the bear, and sometimes this is still used. Many times, however, the bear managed to come back to the area where it was originally trapped. Once a bear identifies a food source, it will return.

Today wildlife officers have a couple methods they use to create a negative experience for the bears. The idea is to give the bear a very unpleasant experience to associate with that location. 

One method is the setting of a pepper barrel. Bait is set at the open end of the barrel and is attached to a spring-loaded mechanism so that, when the bear takes the bait, he or she receives a heavy dose of pepper spray in the face. It will not harm the bear, but it is a very uncomfortable conclusion.

Another method is a hard release. The bear is caught in a trap where the conflict occurred and is released right where it was caught. The hard release may include loud noises, rubber projectiles, paintball guns, and in some cases being chased by a dog trained for that purpose. Again, a very unpleasant experience.

Petkash explained, “Bears are very intelligent and make strong associations. By providing them a negative experience at the site of conflict, it decreases the likelihood that the bear is willing to come back to the location.” 

Both methods have proven to be effective, and repeat visits are rare. With the relocation method, as said earlier, many bears managed to find their way back. When that occurred and the bear associated the area as a good food source, it would become a nuisance and bigger threat. The bear would more than likely be euthanized, which Wildlife Officers hate having to do.

The best course of action is keeping homes void of any potential food sources. There are ample food sources available for the bears in the wild; but household trash and other human-created sources are very tempting, and it is better for both humans and bears to lessen the opportunity and thus the contact.

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