A neighbor emailed us recently to let us know of extreme bear activity in our neighborhood. Several residents have had bear incidents on their property ranging from fairly mild (knocking something over), to downright aggressive and scary. Apparently at one home, a bear was able to slide open the patio door, get into the house past the barking dog, and rampage through her kitchen, going after food. Despite her repeated attempts to scare the bear away throwing rocks at him and making lots of noise, the bear continue his devastating rampage through her house. It appears the same bear got into another neighbor’s house by breaking through the screens on the windows, but when surprised by a person, left without further incident. Several other neighbors reported bears breaking into garages and getting into garbage bins. The question is, how do you live in bear country, and learn to co-exist, without having your home potentially vandalized by a black bear?
One of the reasons I love living in Nederland is the chance to see wildlife in the natural habitat right where I live. But I also realize that living in wildlife habitat comes with responsibility. I don’t ever want to see an animal get put down because of something I did or didn’t do that caused aggressive behavior. I think a lot about that when it comes to living in bear country. Because I’ve worked extensively in national parks where there were a lot of issues with bears and people, I’ve had a fair amount of experience with this situation. When I worked at Sequoia National Park, we always used to say we had a “people” problem, not a bear problem. We knew the solution to having park visitors coexist and enjoy wildlife, while staying safe was educating people. I believe the same is true for those of us who choose to live in the mountains of Colorado. We have a duty to minimize our impact on wildlife by the choices we make.
When it comes to bears, the biggest issues come from them being able to access human food. Campers are instructed to use bear boxes to keep food stored away. As a resident, we have to be equally mindful of not having any type of food accessible to bears. We make sure that we don’t have anything outside to attract a bear, whether it be bird feeders (hummingbird feeders are particularly bad), barbecue grills that haven’t been cleaned, or trash. Because we know trash left outside is a huge temptation to bears and other animals, we don’t keep any trash outside, period. We keep our trash inside, and then take it all to the transfer station weekly.
Food in cars can be another source of reward to a bear. So during times of high bear activity, I try to be rigorous in not leaving any food, wrappers, or other items with odors in my car. We always lock first floors windows at night and during the day, so that no bear can break through and get into the house. It takes a real adjustment in behavior, to “bear-proof” your house, so that you and ultimately the bears can stay safe. But I believe the effort is worth it.
Seeing bears in the wild is such an amazing thing, especially when they are acting like a bear, eating berries off a bush in the distance, or skedaddling across a dirt road. Seeing a bear ravaging a garbage bin is not what I envisioned when I think of the magic of mountain living. On the front range of Colorado, we don’t have an especially high population of bears – their territories are actually quite large. By choosing to life a mountain lifestyle, I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize the life of these amazing animals that make their home here.