Every year, dozens of bears are euthanized around Colorado following interactions with people, and often times, humans are the ones to blame. Many of these encounters are totally preventable, as irresponsible human behavior is typically the driving force behind the incident. Recently, a hashtag has reared its head – #savethebears – encouraging people to make sure that they’re following bear-friendly practices while they’re out in nature and beyond. This piece will take a look at how you can help to prevent bear deaths, but first, let’s take a look at why so many bears are being killed.
In 2017, 216 bears were euthanized statewide, with another 109 relocated. While black bears are typically sheepish when it comes to people, other factors can cause them to be more bold. For instance, a recent statewide dry spell has resulted in a food shortage for the species. As omnivores, a part of the black bear’s diet often relies on roots, grasses, and berries. When there’s less water, there’s less of this for them to eat.
While black bears may prefer these more natural options, they’re also very opportunistic eaters. This means that when there’s less food in their natural habitat, they’re able to adapt to other options they might find. Unfortunately, one place these starving bears tend to turn is toward humans, especially as cities are continually growing closer to nature.
What makes this typical behavior more problematic is Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s two-strike policy. Basically, this means that if a bear puts itself in a situation deemed potentially hazardous to humans, it’s tagged and relocated. If the same bear gets into trouble again, it is euthanized.
Why is this rule so strict? If relocating a bear is unsuccessful in preventing future dangerous behavior the first time, it’s rarely successful during additional attempts. This is because bears are great at learning. Once they realize that they can turn to humans for food in the form of trash and leftovers, it’s something they rarely forget. While bears are being instinctive in scavenging for food, it’s humans that make the mistake of making an untraditional food source available – a food source that often gets a bear killed.
So, how can we help prevent bear deaths?
- Use a bear canister for food while camping. This prevent smells from attracting bears to your campsite.
- Lock up your trash cans if you’re in bear country. This area includes a huge swath of Colorado, even metro areas like Colorado Springs. Bears have no problem venturing out of the foothills into nearby neighborhoods when they’re hungry.
- Keep your doors and windows locked, especially overnight. Bears have been known to enter homes in search of food. This can prevent that from happening.
- Don’t leave trash or leftovers unattended outside. This can attract a variety of wildlife, including bears.
By following basic best practices, humans can prevent teaching bears that population centers and campsites are ideal food sources. This can keep bears from picking up bad habits that might end up getting them killed. If you’re in bear country, be responsible and do your part to prevent human-bear interactions. Together we can help #savethebears.
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