Black bear calls to Tribal Wildlife have suddenly increased dramatically over the past several weeks. The mild spring and summer weather should have produced ample natural food sources, but we are seeing bears coming into town and approaching outlying residences searching for easy food sources.
While we don’t typically see many bears coming into Ignacio, this year seems to be different. Bears are most active in early fall in preparation for winter denning. Black bears increase their daily calorie intake from 3,000 calories per day to nearly 30,000 calories per day and forage for up to 20 hours per day in order to store enough fat to sustain them through the winter.
Unfortunately, human food sources can often become an easy meal for black bears during this time. Although it may seem humane to provide food to hungry bears, it is truly a disservice to both the bear and the community.
Black bears that habitually receive food from human sources often become used to close contact with people and begin to lose their natural fear of people. Black bears will often return to the area where food was previously available. If food is unavailable on their return, they can become destructive or even aggressive in their search for additional food. It is important to remember that black bears have the ability to withstand years of natural food shortages without human intervention.
The most effective method to avoid black bear encounters and to reduce the incidence of bears visiting residential areas is to remove any potential food or attractant available to them. Store trash until the morning of scheduled pick-up in a secure container, preferably inside a garage or shed. Tribal members may contact the Tribal Utilities Division to upgrade their trashcans to bear-proof models for a small additional monthly expense. If used properly, these upgraded cans are nearly 100 percent effective at keeping all wildlife out of the trash. Additionally, we ask people to store pet food indoors and pick up any uneaten food remaining in pet dishes in the evening. Remove bird feeders each evening. Also, store barbecue grills indoors and clean up any spilled grease. Pick ripe fruit from fruit-bearing trees and pick up any fruit that falls to the ground.
It is important to remove any potential source of black bear food from residential areas. In the absence of human food sources, black bears will almost always look elsewhere for food, hopefully utilizing natural sources.
The Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resource Management believes in removing attractants (e.g., trash, pet food, bird feeders, and grills) prior to taking steps to remove a bear. If attractants aren’t removed then another bear, or other wildlife, will likely continue to take advantage of the source. The Wildlife Division does have the ability to trap and relocate nuisance bears, but this is treated as a last-resort option and only if all prevention measures have been tried.
If people see a black bear from a distance, it is important that they not approach it. If a close encounter occurs, some general guidelines to follow are:
- Stay Calm.
- Stop and back away slowly while facing the bear.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Direct eye contact may be perceived as threatening by a black bear.
- Speak softly to identify yourself as a human and to show that you are not a threat to the bear.
- Fight back if the bear attacks.
If you have questions or for more information, please contact the Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resource Management at 970-563-0130.
To report black bear encounters contact the Southern Ute Division of Wildlife Resource Management at 970-563-0130; the Southern Ute Tribal Rangers at 970-563-0133; or Southern Ute Dispatch at 970-563-4401.