Best love for bears is tough love

Opinion by Daniela Kohl. Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition | June 15, 2023

A bear peers from a tree during one of the nearly 5,000 bear reports that Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel responded to in 2020.
Jason Clay/Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Bears are out of hibernation and starting to wander. You might wonder, “How can I reduce the human-bear conflicts?” That’s a great question, and you can get ahead of the human-bear conflict curve by using our knowledge and wisdom to co-exist with the bruins that are calling Aspen, Roaring Fork Valley, and Grand Valley their home.

The Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition (RFB) has some bear-aware tips for people living and recreating in bear country. It is that time of year again when mama-bear boots or kicks out her last year’s cubs — which is called family break up — in order to mate again in June. So do not be surprised when you see a lost, lonely, scrawny-looking bear, which can easily be confused with a bear cub in your garden. It’s actually a yearling who is trying to learn new ways.

During family separation, yearlings get dispersed and suddenly find themselves on their own. It is especially hard on male yearlings, as they have to find their own home range. Mom tolerates female offspring and will share an overlapping home range with them, but the males have to find a new home range, which means they have to travel large distances to find it, and they may encounter bigger males to compete with and older boars defending their territory, which is another obstacle for yearlings.

This is why you may see a single bear in your backyard and neighborhoods looking for a safe place to rest and looking for unsecured food attractants. You can help these young bears and give them a chance to become good bears by showing them tough love.

Don’t let them get comfortable and learn bad habits like food conditioning (that habituates them to return to your home). Young bears will be able to learn quickly, and it is easier to teach them now than when they are older. So, when you see that bear, ask them in a firm voice to leave or make louder noise. Making them move on, alerting your neighbors to do the same, you can save that bear’s life. If the bear keeps coming back a second time, make louder noise, and if you have any doubts, please reach out to Colorado Parks & Wildlife or to RFB!

In recent weeks, RFB has been getting phone calls from caring and concerned citizens asking what to do with the bear cub in their garden, wondering if the bear cub needs our help or if it’s orphaned and needs to go to a wildlife rehabilitation because it is starving and needs feeding. We ask them to share a pix of the cub because a picture is worth a thousand words, and it usually turns out the cub is not a cub; it’s just a scrawny looking yearling or subadult 2-3 years old, changing its winter fur coat into a summer one (molting process).

RFB’s advice is to leave the bear alone, do not feed or try to catch it. Like everything we care and love, maybe we love it to death, literally speaking. Usually RFB is able to convince people that it is not a cub and just a very young bear and to give the bear a lot of space and slow down when driving at night; locking and securing their trash,cars, and home goes a long way. RFB has also started putting out yard signs and banners alerting residents of bears in the area.

Most individuals understand it and realize well-meaning actions could be the kiss of death for bears. Of course, to put people’s worries at ease (including my own), a call to CPW is made, and we ask them to take a second look if they are able to and confirm that the bear is fine. The best advice is to give bears and wildlife plenty of space and leave them alone; usually, they are just passing through.

The biggest favor you can do for bears is not to leave any
attractants, which could be human foods, trash, bird feeders, pet food, or dirty BBQ grills. Bears give you plenty of notice that they are in your area and usually leave a calling card or two of a few scat and tracks; so even if you don’t see them, you know that they have visited.

The point I am trying to make is: When will humans finally take responsibility and realize that it is a human’s bad behavior problem? They alone can and must do better than this. It’s not the government, law enforcement, or CPW’s job to babysit and fine us.

Since when did we stop caring about throwing out trash everywhere and being careless and selfish? Where is the good, old common sense?

Have we regressed instead of progressed with all upscale technology, recycling, and climate-change actions available to us in our daily lives? Why can’t we take care of something as simple as cleaning up behind us?

Does finger pointing and blaming our wildlife agency and local government make us feel better or alleviates the guilt when bears get killed? Almost always, the root cause when a bear gets killed is the. irresponsible human’s action putting the bear at risk, like playing or petting a cub, feeding, or by being a bear paparazzi for photos. Of course, when it gets out of hand and the bear becomes human-habituated and food-conditioned, it won’t leave. Then the bear pays the price with its life.

I think it is high time to look within ourselves on how we can do better and leave no trace behind for wildlife to stay out of trouble.

Daniela Kohl started the Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition in 2019.