DENVER – A yearling female who had a chicken feeder stuck around her neck was freed after two bystanders managed to get her up a tree before Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) rangers could remove the bear and release it back into the wild.
While black bear sightings are a regular occurrence this time of year as they hunt for food in preparation for winter hibernation, the sighting in Boulder County is another reminder that living, playing or visiting Colorado bear country requires being bear aware.
Numbers for reports of black bear sightings for 2021 are not yet complete, but data from the previous two years shows that while encounters with bears decreased during 2020, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, bears were still busy hunting down food and finding it wherever it was available to them – in the trash, inside cars, inside homes or even by a chicken coop.
CPW spokesman Jason Clay told Denver7 the most recent sighting west of Boulder last week was likely caused by the yearling female breaking into someone’s chicken coop and getting to an unsecured chicken feeder.
Data from CPW shows there were a total of 254 reports of bears breaking into chicken coops in 2020. Detailed breakdown for 2019 isn’t available, but besides trash and bird feeders, black bears were reported to have had access to “Other food” 1,171 times in 2019.
For the Boulder area alone, 26 reports of bears breaking into chicken coops were reported in 2020. The highest number of reported chicken coop break-ins occurred in southwestern Colorado, around Montezuma, Dolores, San Juan, La Plata and Archuleta counties.
“It serves as a reminder that people need to secure their attractants so they are not accessible to a bear, and in this particular case, chicken coops need to be secure buildings or fortified with electric fencing to keep a bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, etc. out,” Clay told Denver7.
Though the number of reports involving black bears decreased by nearly 8% from 2019 to 2020, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials are being forced to close campgrounds due to increasing contact between bears and humans.
On Thursday, USFS officials announced the White River National Forest will now be requiring all campers at Chapman Campground in the Upper Fryingpan River Valley to have hard-sided campers or a trailer to camp in the area. Additionally, officials have prohibited use of the campground during the day due to increased incidences of a black bear getting food from campsites.
“We’ve had to move to these restrictions directly because of a black bear getting food from campsites,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner in a news release. “This is an easily preventable problem if people follow basic food storage practices that prevent bears and other wildlife from having access to food and coolers.”
How to stay safe (and keep wildlife safe in the process) if you’re heading to Colorado bear country
Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do.
Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes, CPW officials say.
If you’re venturing out to bear country, CPW says it’s important that you never leave anything with a scent inside your tent. Cleanliness should also be of utmost priority and campsites should be kept clean at all times to avoid luring any roaming bears looking for food to your campsite.
If the campground you’re staying at has a bear storage locker to secure your food, you should use that, CPW says. If it does not, you should store your food in a bear canister at least 100 feet away from your campsite so a bear does not get rewarded with your food. If you don’t have a bear canister, CPW recommends you lock your food in the trunk of your car as the last resort; however, steps need to be taken to secure your food and trash so a bear cannot get to it.
Once a bear has noticed you and is paying attention to you, there are several things you can do to prevent an attack:
- Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
- Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by wooing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won't be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
- Pick up small children immediately.
- Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
- Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
- Do NOT allow the bear access to your food. Getting your food will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for others.
- Do NOT drop your pack as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
- If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
- Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs; never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.
Bear pepper spray should also be something you carry when exploring the back country. Although bear pepper spray is used in the same manner you would use mace on an attacking person, bear pepper spray and human pepper spray are not the same. Make sure you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive bears. It is not a repellent so do not apply to your body or equipment.
If you’re staying the night out in the mountains, never leave trash or recyclables out overnight and empty cans and boxes that still smell like food. If you must leave trash outside, buy a bear-proof container, build bear-proof enclosure or install an electric fence. To avoid attracting bears, clean containers regularly with ammonia or bleach, CPW says.
The CPW also recommends not feeding birds when bears are active and hold off until the winter season, when bears are hibernating. Instead, they recommend using water features, plantings, nest boxes and flowers to attract birds. But if you don’t want to stop feeding birds, the CPW recommends hanging your feeders at least ten feet off the ground and ten feet away from anything bears can climb.
“If you see a bear, haze it away,” Clay said. “You can yell at it, blow an air horn, set off your car alarm and we recommend that campers take bear spray with them.”