DENVER – A restaurant employee near Winter Park was throwing out the trash one evening last week when they opened the dumpster and found a guest, hiding inside. A black bear popped up and swatted the employee on the head.
The run-in – which only resulted in minor injuries to the employee, thanks to a hat they were wearing, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife – was an example of what to watch for this time of year, as bears enter a feeding frenzy ahead of hibernation.
See a bear, report it to CPW. The bear near Winter Park was spotted near the restaurant every night for a week, but no reports were made, officials said, so CPW officers couldn't help haze the bear away from the area.
And always secure food and trash, to avoid attracting bears.
This time of year, bears are on the hunt for up to 20 hours per day, searching for 20,000 calories daily as they prepare for winter hibernation. Their feeding frenzy over the next few weeks is known as hyperphagia, where they eat and drink almost nonstop, working to put on weight before they return to their dens.
Black bears typically hibernate from November to March, during which they'll live off a layer of fat buildup, not eating or drinking for up to six months. Ahead of hibernation, black numbers, which number about 17,000 to 20,000 in Colorado, will increase their body weight by about 35% during hyperphagia, according to the Western Wildlife Outreach.
So if you see a bear – and there's been more than 3,800 reports to CPW since April 1 – it's likely over one reason: Food. A bear can smell food from five miles away, according to the CPW, and once they find food at one source, they'll remember that source for the next time.
The best ways to avoid bears include stashing trash in bear-proof containers, storing food in air-tight containers or in your trunk and keeping a clean tent and campsite.
“We all know that when bears have easy food sources, they will keep coming back to them,” JT Romatzke, Regional Manager for CPW’s Northwest Region, said in a CPW news release Thursday. “It’s not so much a bear problem as a human problem when we don’t prevent bears from finding easy meals, and also when we accept bad bear behavior as normal."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife passed along these tips to help protect bears and your property:
Keep Bears Out
- Close and lock all first floor windows and doors when you leave the house and at night before you go to bed.
- Install sturdy grates or bars on windows if you must leave them open.
- Keep car doors and windows closed and locked if you park outside. Make sure there’s nothing with an odor in your vehicle, including candy, gum, air fresheners, trash, lotions and lip balms.
- Close and lock garage doors and windows at night and when you’re not home; garage doors should be down if you are in the house but not outside.
- Install extra-sturdy doors if you have a freezer, refrigerator, pet food, birdseed, or other attractants stored in your garage.
- Remove any tree limbs that might provide access to upper level decks and windows.
- Replace exterior lever-style door handles with good quality round door knobs that bears can’t pull or push open.
Get Rid of Attractants
- Don’t leave trash out overnight unless it’s in a bear-proof enclosure or container. Be sure to research all local ordinances and regulations if vacationing.
- Clean your trash cans regularly.
- Don’t store food of any kind in an unlocked garage, flimsy shed or on or under your deck.
- Don’t leave anything with an odor outside, near open windows or in your vehicle, even if you’re home. That includes scented candles, air fresheners, lip balms and lotions.
- Clean-up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck, cleaning your grills after each use. Don't allow food odors to linger.
- Only feed birds when bears are hibernating, generally Nov. 15 - April 15. If you want to feed birds when bears are active, bring in liquid or seed feeders at night or when you leave the house.
- If you have fruit trees, pick fruit before it gets too ripe. Don't allow fruit to rot on the ground. Electric fences provide good protection for small orchards.
- When camping do not leave coolers, food or pots/pans out when you're not in camp. Place them in a locked, hard-sided vehicle.
Teach Bears to Remain Wild
- If a bear comes close to your home, scare it away. Loud noises like a firm yell, clapping your hands, banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn sends most bears running.
- Utilize electric fencing, unwelcome mats and scent deterrents like ammonia to teach bears that your property is not bear-friendly.
- If a bear enters your home, open doors and windows and ensure it can leave the same way it got in. Don’t approach the bear or block escape routes.
- Never approach a bear. If a bear won’t leave, call your local CPW office or Colorado State Patrol.
- If a bear presents an immediate threat to human safety, call 911.