Black bears don’t technically hibernate – it’s more like a long sleep. However, the result is the same – Colorado bears need to pack on enough fat to survive four or five months without a meal, so during late summer and fall, bears enter a condition called “hyperphagia,” which compels them to eat for as much as 20 hours a day. During hyperphagia, a bear may increase its intake of food from 8,000 calories to 20,000 calories per day.
While Colorado bears have evolved to survive on a diet of berries, acorns and the occasional prey item, they will readily take advantage of an easy meal consisting of trash or poorly stored food. Every year, the combination of hungry bears and careless humans creates conflicts that Colorado's wildlife managers are charged with sorting out.
The typical consequences of poor food and trash storage are a garbage-strewn lawn or a camping trip cut short. In some cases, it can even lead to a damaged kitchen. However, for bears, the consequences are often fatal. Because a wildlife manager's priority is human safety, problem bears are tranquilized and relocated only once. The second time they get in trouble, they are destroyed. So are bears that enter homes or show aggression toward people just once.
“It's unfortunate, but some bears are killed simply because people can't be bothered to secure their food or trash,” said Area Wildlife Manager J.T. Romatzke. “Public safety has to be our first priority, but I can tell you that putting a bear down because of someone's thoughtlessness is one of the worst parts of my job.”
The problem is compounded by a bear's natural intelligence and excellent memory. Once a bear learns how to get an easy meal, they will apply that knowledge again and again in the following years. Sows can teach their cubs the same behavior, creating a cycle that can bring them into a conflict with people.
Although wildlife managers have the option to relocate a nuisance bear, it is an option that is becoming increasingly difficult as development continues to encroach on bear habitat. Although bears do not typically attack humans, they are large, powerful animals and their determination to eat makes them dangerous when they learn human items and places are a source of food.
This summer saw several high-profile incidents involving bears that entered tents in search of food and injured the occupants. Complicating matters, a single person's negligence can lead to problems for many, explained Breckinridge Area Wildlife Manger Shannon Schwab.
“A problem bear is everyone's problem,” said Schwab. “If even one person doesn't care enough to take precautions and a bear gets into their trash or their house, it increases the chances that the bear will move on to the neighbor's house, and so on. Multiply that by thousands of bears across the state that are now preparing for winter and you can see why it is so important for everyone to do their part.”
For more information, visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife's website at: http://dowtest.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/LivingWithWildlife/Mammals/Pages/LivingWithBearsL1.aspx