Ever curious and resourceful, a black bear’s continuing search for food can lead it straight to your house. Their super-sensitive noses can sniff out odors — from as far away as 5 miles — of things we humans don’t consider tasty, or even edible, such as your smelly trash, pet food and birdseed, not to mention the now popular backyard chicken “buffets” and hot-tub covers baking in the sun (smells like a great big ant hill to a bear).
Once a bear learns that exploring human places yields a bounty of easy, tasty treats, it will keep coming back for more, a habit that can lead to property damage or even injury. Bears that damage property or come into conflict with people often pay with their lives.
“There’s often a rash of bear sightings and other human-bear interactions in June, when juvenile bears are striking out on their own for the first time. They are hungry, lonely and will explore every possible source of food,” says Linda Masterson, author of the book “Living With Bears.” “If they learn to rely on people for food, their days will be numbered. If we teach them to avoid people places, they’ll have a much better chance of living a long and natural life.”
She offers 12 bear-smart tips for a bear-proof home:
• Don’t feed birds while bears are active. Use water feeders, plantings and nest boxes to attract birds.
• Store garbage in bear-resistant containers, enclosures or buildings.
• If you have trash service, put trash out the morning of pick up, not the night before.
• Keep bear-accessible windows and doors closed and locked at night. Screens keep out bugs, not bears. In a vast majority of bear “break-ins” the bear simply walked or crawled in through an open door or window.
• Double- or triple-pane windows are more bear resistant and save energy too.
• Trim tree branches that overhang your roof or upstairs decks.
• Remove berry-producing bushes and fruit trees close to the house. Avoid planting a clover lawn.
• Store canned goods, bird seed, dog food and beverages inside a sturdy locked building.
• Think twice before putting a refrigerator or freezer in your garage. The rubber gaskets collect odors that go wafting back outside through the ventilation system.
• Lock chickens and small livestock in a secure pen at night or put an electric fence around their enclosure.
• If you park your car outside overnight, don’t leave anything inside it that could attract a bear. That includes sunscreen tan, hand lotion and air fresheners, along with empty food wrappers and packaging. And lock your car doors.
• Don’t leave pet food or empty pet-food dishes outside. A pet door big enough for a small dog is plenty big enough for a bear.
By taking the time to remove attractants and change your habits that attract bears, you could help save a bear’s life. And save yourself a lot of time, trouble and money.
Award-winning author Linda Masterson digs into just about every facet of living and playing safely and smartly in bear country in her book, “Living with Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country.” She’s a member of the International Bear Association and has been part of Colorado’s Bear Aware outreach team since 2002.
Living With Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country is available at bookstores and online at http://www.LivingWithBears.org, or by calling Colorado publisher PixyJack Press at 303-810-2850.