In one sitting, a bear in the Gunnison Valley consumed a pound of butter, another pound of bacon, two pounds of sausage links, a bag of blueberries, corn and two helpings of sweet potato fries. The incident occurred at the home of Gunnison’s Ayers family this past summer.
In an effort to curb instances where hungry bears come around, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has issued a new kind of bear-proofing which involves an “unwelcome mat” — using an electric charge to keep bears away from problem areas.
As the winter nears, bears enter a sort of feeding frenzy phase called hyperphagia — an instinctual need to consume as many as 20,000 calories a day in preparation for hibernation. The changing seasons result in bears spending nearly 20 hours a day foraging for food, and the easier it is to get, the better for bruins — which is why CPW often sees an increase in human-bear conflict this time of year.
Sandy Ayers, as well as her neighbors, have witnessed bears breaking into garages to get their fix of food for the winter months. This past summer, a bear entered Ayers’ garage and consumed the contents of her freezer. Not long after, the bear returned to an open garage door to indulge in trash and 50 pounds of dog food to top it off.
In instances like these where reoccurring bears have become a chronic issue, CPW has pointed to electricity to fend off the omnivores.
“In recent years, Parks and Wildlife all over the state has been using this more, because we’re seeing results,” explained CPW District Wildlife Manager Brandon Diamond. “Electricity is a powerful deterrent that doesn't have long-lasting health impacts on the animals.”
However, Diamond pointed out that the “unwelcome mat” is a short-term solution to keeping bears out of problem areas.
“From our perspective, the long-term solution to so many of our problems is trash management,” explained Diamond.
Diamond hopes to see a move toward more bear-resistant containers in city limits as many mountain towns, such as Crested Butte, have pursued in the past.
“I am certain we can live with bears in our community, because there is natural food like crab apples,” added Diamond. “We just want to maintain a respectful buffer.”
In order to lessen the likelihood of bears going where they don't belong, Diamond encourages residents to take inventory of their property to make sure there are no easy or obvious attractants.
For bears, anything from bird seed to dog food, scraps and even air fresheners could be enough to bring them into human territory. If a bear has easy access to food, they will likely choose a large bin of trash over scouring for nuts and berries.
“Most of the bears we’ve been dealing with are not what I would consider public safety issues, they’re simply taking advantage of trash and easy food systems,” said Diamond.
In order to keep bears wild, CPW has outlined preventative measures for negative conditioning.
Diamond noted one of the most effective measures for negative conditioning is utilizing the unwelcome mat. While CPW keeps these mats on hand for homeowners in need, the mat itself can be made from supplies gathered at a local hardware store.
The components include a rubber mat, mesh wire panels, a metal rod and a battery charger. For the mat to deliver a shock, an animal has to have at least one point of contact with the ground next to the mat. If, for example, a bird landed on the mat, it would have no effect.
“The mats are good because oftentimes we get bear calls, and by the time we get there the bear is gone,” explained Diamond. “It’s hard to be at the right place at the right time, but with the electric mats we can put them out 24/7 if need be.”
Diamond also utilizes trail cameras for documentation in areas with mats in place to be sure of their effectiveness.
“In the instances bears have been exposed to the mat, they don't come back,” stated Diamond.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)