It is the middle of summer here in the valley, which means that berries are starting to ripen. If you enjoy eating the berries here, then you are not alone. Black bears eat berries because they serve a critical role in the bears’ diets. As bears start moving about looking for food, you may find that they will wander into your trash to look for an easy snack. While it may be exciting to see a bear roaming through the woods or in your yard, it is crucial that you understand bear safety and how to properly dispose of your trash to protect yourself, others, and the bears. If you follow the guidelines below you will easily be able to keep everyone safe this bear season.
Staying on trails and viewing bears from a distance is one way to minimize the likelihood of an encounter with a bear. Often, bears would like to avoid you and keep to themselves. Therefore, hiking with small groups of people and talking as you hike can be effective ways to lower your chances of encountering a bear. However, on the off-chance that you encounter or are seen by a bear, here are some tips you should follow:
- Stay calm. Do not run or act startled. Bears will often chase you if you run; therefore, slow movements will usually keep the bear from running after you. Bears may perform what is called a “false charge,” in which they run at you and turn away abruptly just before reaching you. This is meant to scare you away when they feel threatened by you.
- Give the bear space. Be sure to have plenty of distance between you and the bear, and never get between a mother bear and her cubs. Any bear can feel threatened when approached by a human. Bears that feel threatened may attack to protect themselves, regardless of whether the threats are legitimate.
- Always face the bear. When moving away from a bear, never turn your back on it. You should remain facing the bear so that you are aware of where it is and what it is doing. Also, moving sideways is seen as a non-threatening movement that can help you move away from bears.
- Look as big as possible. Put your arms up or move to an elevated surface to make yourself appear bigger to the bear. If you have small children, pick them up off the ground to make them look big as well.
- Know what to do if a bear attacks. If a black bear follows you, which is the only type of bear in Colorado, it may be making sure you leave its space. However, if it persists, be prepared to stand your ground and scare it off. If you are attacked by a black bear, you should fight back. Fighting back deters black bears because they usually eat food that is already dead; this is also why you should never play dead during a black bear encounter. If you are out of the state and encounter a grizzly bear, different rules apply! Check the recommendations for the area you are visiting.
Secure Your Trash
Bears are smart animals and know to look in trash cans for a quick and easy snack. Unfortunately, this is one of the leading causes of conflicts between humans and bears. Bears have a two-strike rule when it comes to getting into the trash. After being caught twice, the bear will be euthanized. To protect yourself and the bears, follow these steps to secure your trash:
- Keep it inside. Keeping your trash and recycling bins in your garage or house can ensure that bears do not get into the trash. Also, keeping trash in a bear-safe, enclosed area, can help to keep bears out.
- Clean up. Cleaning up all trash, including cans and food packaging, can keep bears from being drawn to your yard.
- Use a bear-resistant container. There are garbage and recycling bins that have bear locks on them. They also have sturdy lids which prevents bears from breaking open their lids to get to the trash inside.
- Clean your trash bin. Cleaning your bin with ammonia, bleach, or a pine-scented solution can prevent your trash from having too strong of a smell, which can lure in bears.
Seeing a bear is such an exciting event, but they can be unpredictable. Being prepared and following the advice above can be vital to protecting yourself and the bear.
If interested in more information, please visit the webpages of Colorado Parks and Wildlife or the National Park Service about bear safety.
Kelly Luebbering is a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center who enjoys hiking and enjoying the views that mountains offer.