Bear aware: How to safely avoid black bears while camping, hiking

Bear aware: How to safely avoid black bears while camping, hiking

A late freeze and winter storms in May will impact the natural food sources of Colorado’s 17,000 black bears.

GOLDEN, Col. — A late spring frost and two winter storms in May will impact the natural forage for bears and could increase the likelihood of human-bear interactions this summer and fall in Colorado, warns Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

CPW that in years where it is very dry or there is a late frost, it can be said detrimental to the natural forage to bears. In these years, wildlife officers see a higher number of conflicts.

Reported conflicts with bears were down 28% in 2021 compared to the two previous years, but that is not expected to be the same this year, said CPW.

CPW said mountainous and foothill areas from western Douglas County north through western Larimer County have seen some areas with frost damage to emerging crops. In western Larimer County, effects from the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire are still impacting forage.

“We certainly see a correlation between annual failures of natural bear food sources and years with higher human-bear conflict rates,” said Mark Vieira, Carnivore and Furbearer Program Manager for CPW. “When natural food sources are scarce, as the smart flexible eaters that bears are, they tend to spend more time near humans. Our communities tend to be closer to riparian systems that offer a wetter environment of natural foods, in addition to the offerings of human food sources that exist when we don’t properly secure our trash and other attractants.”

“While portions of the northern Front Range may have gotten a brief respite with rains pulling them out of the worst of the current statewide drought, natural bear foods like hard and soft mast also need good summer moisture to produce the most fruit. Current snowpack and moisture conditions in most of the state are far from optimal for robust fruit production.”

While bears are not naturally aggressive they are strong, powerful animals, and it’s important to take the necessary precautions to avoid any conflicts with them.

Most adult bears will survive year-to-year, even despite poor food availability, so CPW said the public should not attempt to feed them.

“The majority of the time, bears are not after you, they are after food,” said Mark Lamb area wildlife manager. “Understanding bear behaviors and being aware of what steps you can take to avoid bears from approaching you is an important part of recreating responsibly in bear country. Being smart about how you store your food, using bear boxes and bear-resistant canisters, and locking your property keeps you safe and can save a bear’s life.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) recommends the following outdoor practices to minimize encounters with bears:

Camping

When camping in bear country, the easiest way to avoid bears is to not have anything in your campsite that has a smell that will attract them.

  • Safely store food, beverages and toiletries in campsite lockers called bear boxes (if provided), in bear-proof containers away from tents or locked in the trunk of a vehicle.
  • Put all trash in bear-proof trash receptacles or bear canisters.
  • Keep a clean campsite, which includes scraping grill grates after use and cleaning used dishes.
  • Never bring food or anything that smells like food – which can include toiletries, sunscreen and even the clothes you wear when cooking – into your tent.
  • Lock cars and RVs whenever you leave your site and at night and close windows.

What if a bear tries to enter a campsite?

Notify CPW park staff if a bear enters a campsite. As an extra precaution, carry bear spray with you when you go camping.

Backpacking and hiking

Understanding bear behaviors and your surroundings can help avoid unwanted encounters with wildlife on trails.

  • Stay alert at all times, avoid using headphones and be extra cautious at dawn and dusk.
  • Keep dogs leashed at all times.
  • Never feed or approach a bear.
  • Double bag food and pack out all food waste (including apple cores or banana peels) to avoid encouraging bears to see trails as a food source.
  • Respect forage areas. If your usual trail runs through berry patches, oak brush or other known food sources be extra vigilant. Make extra noise by periodically clapping or calling out to alert bears to your presence.

What to do when encountering a bear on the trail

Stay calm, stand still and speak to it in a firm tone of voice. The bear will most likely identify you and leave. Never run from a bear. If the bear does not leave, slowly wave your arms to make yourself look bigger. Continue facing the bear, slowly back away, and keep slowly moving away until the bear is out of sight. If the bear gets within 40 feet, use bear spray.

If a bear attacks, do not play dead – fight back with anything available, including trekking poles, small knives or even your bare hands.

Balck bears have lived in the forests and foothills of Colorado long before pioneers arrived. Today they share their space with an ever-growing human population. However, sharing outdoor spaces with wildlife is what makes Colorado so unique. CPW says to always be aware on trails to help reduce human-bear conflicts.

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