Vail Daily column: Help black bears prepare for winter
Tuning up gear to hit the slopes, busting out warm clothing layers and dusting off the snowshoes — these are things I’m sure sound familiar to you as preparation for the winter season begins. From a black bear’s perspective, however, winter preparation takes on a whole new meaning. An average day for a bear in fall involves eating, sleeping, drinking and eating some more. This period of time, characterized by an abnormal increased appetite and excessive eating, is known as hyperphagia. During this critical time, bears only have one thing on their mind — food!
Into Full Effect
Hyperphagia will swing into full effect either in midsummer or early fall, depending on the region. Here in the valley, it’s safe to say that black bears are already beginning to stuff their faces. Their diet consists primarily of vegetation, things such as grasses, fruits, nuts, and berries; but really a bear will eat anything it comes across. Think about trying to eat 20,000 calories in a day. Whew, that would be a workout, but black bears accept the challenge. Their challenge is exactly this, finding enough food to gain at least 3 pounds a day, while not expending too much energy to obtain this food. Luckily for bears, they have a highly sensitive nose. Unfortunately for us, that means they can smell their way to our trash cans, homes and cars with food inside.
In order to protect ourselves and help the bears, we need to add one more thing to our winter prep list — bearproofing! By keeping bears away from us and our food, we eliminate any chance of conflict. We must consciously make an effort to unwelcome bears, despite how cute they may look. When it comes to food, bears get aggressive and destructive to get what they want. If a bear is successful in getting food from the garbage or out of a car, they are essentially rewarded. With an excellent memory, bears will likely return to a food source once found. Returning bears are marked as a problem and any chance of surviving winter is lost.
If you love bears and their wild nature as much as I do, then please help eliminate conflicts and bearproof today. Your top priority should be your trash, allowing bears to get to your garbage is the main cause of human-bear conflicts. Getting a bear-resistant trash container may be the best investment you’ve ever made. Be sure to look at http://www.lwwf.org for products and test reviews. Also, remember to never put trash outside overnight to cut the chances of a bear visit from 70 percent to 2 percent. Removing any and all bear attractants is another thing to take care of when bearproofing. This includes anything with an odor either outside, in your car, in your home, or near an open window. If it smells delicious to you, then it probably smells 1,000 times better and stronger to a bear.
Putting on the TV or talk radio when you leave home is another simple way to deter a bear. This is because bears are startled by the sound of human voices, but oddly enough, not by music. Removing branches or tree limbs close to a deck or window also discourages climbing bears from entering your home. As well, it’s a good idea to remove any bird feeders during these months when bears are highly active and foraging. Bird seed offers a lot of calories for bears, and is usually the first reward a bear gets for exploring human places. Always remember that a fed bear is a dead bear! The more we know about black bears, the better we can protect them, ourselves and Colorado’s wild soul.
Morgan Ballinger is a naturalist at Waking Mountain Science Center who loves all things wild and weird about our natural world.