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Wildlife Roundtable: Do your part to keep bears safe and wild

Rick Spitzer
The Wildlife Roundtable
What is the Eagle County Community Wildlife Roundtable? The purpose of the Eagle County Community Wildlife Roundtable is to gather a group of diverse stakeholders in the valley to understand and address issues facing wildlife populations. Together we will identify a shared vision and realistic actions that the community can rally around to support wildlife. We want to leverage diverse values, creativity, and resources to move to positive action.

People often overeat. But, could you eat 35 Big Macs in one day? How about adding some fries, a large drink, or more.

That seems crazy. Maybe impossible. If you are a black bear, that is what you are after every day from mid-August until around late September or October. That time frame is moving into November due to climate change.

If you fail to obtain those calories when you enter the den, you might not make it through the winter.

For females, it is even more important. You give birth to a couple of cubs in January and they weigh about 8 ounces at birth. You are now responsible to produce enough milk to get them to spring when you leave the den. They consume enough milk that 5-8 weeks after their birth, they can weigh about 7 pounds. The cubs obtain that fat only from their mother’s milk until they are weaned, usually at about six to eight months of age.

That is what hyperphagia for black bears is all about. “Hyper” means extreme activity and “phagia” has to do with eating. 

Right now you, a black bear, are thinking about only one thing: food! You need to eat almost continuously, as many as 5,000 to 20,000 calories a day and up to 24 hours a day. You are naturally after ripe berries, apples, carrion and other natural foods.

But then, humans showed up. You love it. Their trash is fantastic and so are their activities. They put out food for their dogs and for the birds. Quick easy calories. They don’t keep their BBQs clean. Quick easy calories. They don’t lock their doors or close their windows. Quick easy calories. They leave food in their cars. Quick easy calories. 

Some think that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s directive on black bear incidents has the phrase “two-strikes” and you are out. The baseball game analogy is not correct and they do not relocate or destroy bears as some form of penalty. It has more to do with bears that are currently judged to be dangerous because of their location or activity.

Moving a bear away from town before it becomes a chronic problem does not always work. Bears that have been relocated will often return to the capture location within weeks, if not days. Even after being taken large distances, they often return. If they don’t return, they may have found another town and return to their old ways. That town now has the problem with this bear.

Bears that become a major danger or nuisance may be euthanized. Your behavior may contribute to a bear’s death or invite a dangerous encounter. 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks that you to do the following:

  • Don’t feed bears, and don’t put out food for bears and other wildlife that might attract bears. 
  • Don’t store trash outside, and don’t put it out at the curb the night before pickup. Wait to put trash out the morning of pickup.
  • If storing your trash outside is the only option, use locking bear-resistant trash cans for your trash. Contact your local garbage supplier to purchase one.
  • Be cautious about birdfeeders. If you must feed birds, bring all the feeders in at night. Bears can’t resist checking them out.
  • Burn food off your barbecue grills and clean them after each use.
  • Keep all bear-accessible windows and doors closed and locked, particularly at night. You don’t want to be awakened by a noise and discover a bear in your house.
  • Don’t leave food, trash, coolers, air fresheners or anything that smells in unlocked vehicles. Locked vehicles have been seriously damaged as well.
  • Bears often get into vehicles, the door closes, and they cannot get out. The interior will be unrecognizable when the bear is done with it. Do you want to open the door?
  • Pick fruit before it ripens from trees in your yard and clean up fallen fruit.
  • If you camp, protect your food (bear-proof containers are ideal) and pack out your trash.
  • Talk to your neighbors about doing their part to be bear responsible.

Are you doing all you can to prevent an issue with a bear? Let’s all do our part to keep bears safe and wild.

Rick Spitzer is a well-known wildlife photographer who lives in Wildridge. The Wildlife Roundtable is a partnership with the White River National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, other local government entities, community members, and citizen scientists.


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