Coloradans who give short shrift to “bear aware” warnings by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials might think twice after learning how many bears the agency euthanizes each year because of dangerous human-bear interactions.
Over the past seven years, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has had to put down an average of 110 bears annually. As of this week, 63 have been euthanized in 2022. The state has an estimated bear population of 17,000 to 20,000.
Bears get into trouble when they associate the presence of humans with the likelihood of available food sources.
“Once they break into a human structure, they get classified as a dangerous bear,” said Joey Livingston, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer. “In those situations we do, unfortunately, have to euthanize them.”
That’s why the agency warns Coloradans in late summer about the importance of reducing potential food sources for bears on their properties and in vehicles. Bears are about to enter a stage called hyperphagia to prepare for winter. They can consume up to 20,000 calories daily during this annual eating binge. That typically begins in September, peaking in mid- to late September or early October.
“Even if people don’t necessarily know they’re providing food sources, they can be, even (with) fruit trees — those can act as an attractant,” Livingston said. “Some of these bears learn that trash equals food. They see a trash can, they’re going to investigate. The more we can keep them from learning that trash equals food, or humans equal food, the less likely we’re going to have to get involved.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said some areas of the state saw a loss of food sources for bears above 7,000 feet in elevation this year because of a hard freeze in May and continued drought, which could lead bears in those locations to seek food in human-populated areas. Along Colorado’s populous Front Range, where there has been considerable monsoon moisture this summer, Livingston said the outlook is better.
“Luckily, the amount of rain and moisture offset some of the effects of the freeze and led to a relatively good year for the bears,” Livingston said.
In many cases, bears captured in urban areas that are first-time offenders get relocated rather than euthanized as a sort of “two-strike” rule, Livingston said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has relocated 30 bears so far this year.
“Relocations are usually for nuisance bears that are coming around too much, won’t leave, maybe get into a shed or something, not an occupied structure,” Livingston said. “Once a bear gets into an occupied structure, that’s when it becomes a dangerous bear, and we do euthanize right away. If they can get into a house and get food, they’re going to get into a house again, and the chances of someone getting hurt increase dramatically.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks Coloradans to bear-proof their homes by keeping trash in well-secured locations; putting garbage cans on the street only on the day of pick-up; cleaning garbage cans regularly with ammonia to keep them free from food odors; securing compost piles; cleaning barbecue grills after every use; and avoiding leaving food in cars. Pet food and livestock feed should not be left outside. If you have fruit trees, fruit should not be allowed to rot on the ground.