Despite a weekend chill, warm temperatures have western Colorado peach blossoms and Front Range tulips appearing ahead of schedule, but plants aren’t the only things taking an early wake up call from Mother Nature. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) has begun receiving statewide reports of black bear sightings.
Black bears emerge from hibernation in the spring and spend the first several weeks in a state that biologists refer to as ‘walking hibernation’. Bears in walking hibernation are typically active for only short periods of time and are not actively feeding or drinking. The bears’ muscles, digestive system and other biological functions use this period of time to slowly adjust to the normal activity phase.
“For now, we’re just getting calls from people who are seeing bears,” said Perry Will, Area Wildlife Manager for the DOW in Glenwood Springs. “With the bears starting to become more active, it’s a good time to remind people that they need to take precautions if they live in bear areas.”
Residents in bear areas are reminded to obey local trash ordinances, many of which were developed to protect bear populations and minimize human-bear conflicts. In areas without specific bear ordinances, residents are urged to store trash cans in a garage or shed and not place trash out for curbside pickup until the morning of pick up. Trash that is placed out the night before pickup can be quickly found by bears, as they are most active during the night. Trash cans and recycling containers should be frequently cleaned with ammonia to eliminate strong food odors and discourage bear visits.
Residents and visitors to Colorado should also be aware that it is illegal to feed bears, or any other big game animals. Anyone caught feeding a bear faces a minimum $100 fine. Often times, bears that are fed by humans will expect food from all people and may become aggressive. Aggressive bears are killed to prevent attacks, which are extremely rare in bears that haven’t come to rely on human food sources. A person feeding a bear may think they’re helping, when in reality they are starting the bear down a path that could end the bear’s life and endanger other people.
Other common things that bring bears into close proximity with people are pet food, bird feeders, barbecue grills and fruit trees. Pet owners are urged to feed pets indoors or not leave pet food out at night. Bird feeders should be taken down nightly and efforts should be undertaken to make sure that seed doesn’t become scattered on the ground under the feeder. Barbecue grills should be cleaned thoroughly and, if possible, stored in a garage or shed when not in use. Property owners with fruit trees should harvest fruit as soon as it ripens and clean up any fruit that falls from trees.
Bears can find food sources using an incredible sense of smell. A bear’s nose has almost 100 times the number of scent membranes found in an average human nose. Bears have been recorded traveling several miles to reach deer carcasses. If the wind is right, it’s possible for a bear to smell your barbecuing steaks from three to five miles away.
The black bear is Colorado’s largest carnivore. There are no confirmed grizzly bears in Colorado, though the DOW investigates reports of grizzly bears nearly every year. Black bears come in many color phases, in fact, most black bears in Colorado are brown in color, but they may also be seen in black, cinnamon, red or even blonde color phases.
Black bears vary in size and weight, with males generally being larger than females. Adult males average 275 pounds while the adult female may average 175 pounds. Depending on the season, food supply and gender, they may weigh anywhere from 125 to 450 pounds. Black bears measure about three feet high when standing on all four feet or about five feet tall standing upright.
Black bear females that are emerging from dens may be accompanied by a cub or cubs. Cubs generally start out at less than three pounds but quickly put on weight when they begin feeding with the mother bear in the spring. Cubs will spend the first one and half years of life with the mother bear, learning how to fend for themselves.
People who are enjoying spring weather in Colorado’s high country are reminded that bears can be aggressive, especially if there are cubs present or if the bear is surprised by someone who gets too close. Hikers and others are urged to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Making a little noise as you walk is also a way to let bears know that you are there. A vast majority of times, bears will flee approaching people if given the opportunity.
The DOW is partnering in a multi-year urban black bear study that is being conducted by researchers with Colorado State University and the USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Ft. Collins. The research is using GPS satellite technology to track bear movements in the Aspen, Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs areas. DOW officials hope the project will provide valuable information about bear behavior in urban areas and methods that work best to reduce conflict between people and bears.
The DOW publishes a brochure entitled “Living with Wildlife in Black Bear Country” that provides tips for homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts. The brochure is available at any DOW office. To report an incident involving a bear contact your local DOW office. To learn more about black bears or how to bear- proof your home or camp check the DOW Living with Wildlife webpage.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife is the state agency responsible for managing wildlife and its habitat, as well as providing wildlife related recreation. The Division is funded through hunting and fishing license fees, federal grants and Colorado Lottery proceeds through Great Outdoors Colorado.
By Randy Hampton, Colorado Division of Wildlife
Division of Wildlife’s Media Contacts:
NE Colorado (including Denver): Jennifer Churchill (303) 291-7234
SE Colorado: Michael Seraphin (719) 227-5211
NW Colorado: Randy Hampton (970) 255-6162
SW Colorado: Joe Lewandowski (970) 375-6708