For the Not-So-Bear-Aware
by Christopher Pike
May 14, 2007 | 251 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The very last mistake that I ever thought I would make at my home was to be an unwitting provider to a young but timid black bear, two nights running last week.

But the excitement and awe of the encounter quickly wore off when I realized this incident could have put me in a bad way. Though this bear ran away, some of you might not be so lucky.

It became apparent that there are probably other residents living here who might underestimate the ease with which some of our habits might draw such creatures to us, despite the information that is readily available from the state and federal officials.

So kindly allow me to share a few lessons about what not to do, given the propensities of this very powerful animal, for the benefit of those who are skeptical of ever having an unintended bear visitation, and, who, like me, who need to modify trash duties, the proper placement of pet food on the premises and the positioning of garage doors.

Lesson #1: A bear sighting can be anywhere, especially after winter. For the last 15 years that I have lived on the south slope of Pleasant Valley I never saw a bear in my neighborhood, or for that matter, anywhere. I developed the false notion that they just didn’t have a presence in certain places, what with the more woodsy backcountry of Log Hill or higher altitudes above the City of Ouray. Wrongo!

A typical bear has a potential range of at least 5,000 square miles. So just because we often hear about sightings in certain areas beware of being lulled into complacency about their potential to come to your neighborhood. Bears have been spotted in downtown Ridgway and in Log Hill Mesa with increasing frequency, which is due in part to increased human populations and development displacing them. And Pleasant Valley is a connecting corridor for those communities, in which this fellow was just passing through.

Lesson # 2:  Keep no trash outside, no matter what it is, anytime. The bear has a keen sense of smell, particularly when he or she is hungry. I smugly felt that since I put little, if any, garbage with my trash, that I could simply deposit my Hefty trash bag in a 35-gallon Rubbermaid next to the garage.

Moreover, I had been leaving the garage door, a roll-up system, a few inches off the floor so that the cats could go to and from the garage. Their food, situated at the rear, is provided in little dispenser containers and that was well within scent range. Mr. Bear, after devouring the trash bags outside, and finding virtually nothing, pressed for the garage, smelling the dry cat food. He nosed or lifted up with his paws the garage door about three feet, and entered, during two separate evenings, leaving a swale of food debris across the garage floor on each occasion. During the first night, he removed and hid somewhere in the wilderness two little storage containers full of cat food, but it wasn’t enough since he or she returned the second evening for more. All of this occurred while my terrified dog and two cats beat a retreat under the east deck or for the roof (which has a low pitch and can be ascended from the back of the building). My dog refused to come down during the first episode, which made the affair all the more puzzling.

My only moment with the bear was after he had eaten the cat food the second night, at 11:30 p.m., when he yanked out the steel grating that is used for scraping shoes, just a few yards from my front door. He apparently washed down the food with some fresh rainwater from the pit. I got a clear view of her beating a retreat into the woods. Until I opened that door, the bear was beginning to feel quite at home.

After the first encounter I still couldn’t fathom that it might have been a bear. Even though trash containers had been knocked over, and large incision marks were found on one empty dispenser, I still concluded it must have been a badger or a coon.

Lesson #3: When there is variable weather the animal kingdom is impacted and the timing and range of their activities changes with it. Kelly Crane of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, who answered my call about the bear encounters, told me that since it had snowed just a few days before, and those conditions had been preceded by warmer weather, the bear may have come out of hibernation early, then with the shift back to cooler temperatures may not been able to find insects or favored food at a convenient time. Whatever it was, this apparently confused creature was very hungry. And, he may have been seeking food from the greener areas in the valley as a consequence.

Other tips Crane provided:  If you must keep trash outside, place it in bear-proof containers. Be sure garbage cans are emptied regularly. Periodically clean garbage cans to reduce residual odor-using hot water and chlorine bleach or by burning. And store trash in a closed garage or shed. Do not put fruit and vegetables in compost piles, and…

Lesson # 4: Keep all lower level windows and doors tightly closed. I was instructed that the best course of action to discourage a return visit was to lock the garage door and park vehicles in front of each bay of the garage for a few days, thereby impeding his access to the door handles. Remember, wild bears rarely attack people unless they feel threatened or provoked. This fellow high-tailed it down the hill toward other residences within minutes after seeing me, which caused the neighbors dogs to sound off. According to Crane, that shyness suggests he was a young, immature bear and likely afraid of people.  Lucky me!

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