Keeping Our Friends Close, But Not Too Close…

Digger, a bear at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, who was captured in Montana for being a nuisance

Digger, a bear at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, who was captured in Montana for being a nuisance

Living in Colorado we often have to deal with wildlife encounters. Personally I have witnessed many wild animals simply roaming through my backyard as they look for food and go about their daily routines. Once my father walked in on a bear that was in our garage. And, although I love seeing animals as much as I can, we have to question if this is really a good thing. The case is different for every animal, but, as we encroach on their habitats, we need to be aware of what our presence is doing to the animals, and try to take some preventative measures to keep both us and them safe and healthy.

Bears have become a big problem for people because we are living closer and closer to their natural habitat. Living on a mountain I have seen my fair share of bears throughout my neighborhood, and, in seeing them so often, I have also witnessed how naughty they can be. Bears are notorious for exhibiting various kinds of “nuisance” behaviors that can get them into a lot of trouble, and it should be up to us to try and prevent this as much as possible so that they stay out of trouble and we stay safe. Bears that exhibit this behavior not only put us at risk, but also themselves, because when they are caught doing this, often times animal departments are instructed to “take care” of them, which is not good for bear populations if this behavior continues to escalate.

Bears are omnivores and therefore like to get their paws into just about anything so that they can get a meal [2]. And with us living increasingly closer to their habitats, they are discovering that they can use our resources for food as well. Since they are such smart creatures they can get their food from all kinds of sources—garbage, bird feeders, compost piles, pet food, barbecues, gardens, orchards, and anything else they can be intuitive enough to get into [1].   So taking all of this into consideration, if we wish to help bears remain wild and safe from being captured due to becoming a nuisance, it is up to us to try to be a little more bear-conscious of our homes and take some preventative measures.

The first step to this is to try and keep anything that would attract bears inside your garage or in the house. Keeping bird feeders high or on bear proof poles that they can’t reach and not overfilling them helps if you will be hanging them during bear season [1].   Keeping garbage and recycling bins inside is another important step, and don’t put them outside until right before they are supposed to be picked up [3]. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen trash cans turned over and the contents strewn through a yard because they were left out too long, or overnight and bears have gone through them. This can also be a very detrimental thing for bears. This is the number one attractant, and letting this become a problem means that these bears are often captured and sometimes killed because they have become a danger to humans because they frequent the area too much [1].

Many cities have employed the use of bear-proof trashcans in public areas that have had a generally positive effect. A study done in Florida reported a decrease in bear sightings and bear-human interactions once the trashcans were employed, as well as a positive attitude from local residents about the trash cans [4]. This kind of technology can be really useful when there is no way around having attractants out, and it is these kinds of solutions that need to be sought after when dealing with problems such as these. We need to work toward co-existing a little better with our natural world. And although humans don’t always care very much about protecting the animals of our world, if we can work toward better solutions that work for both parties, things have a much greater potential of getting better.

-Deanna Sinclair


  4. Barrett, et al., “Testing Bear Resistant Trash Cans in Residential Areas of Florida.” Southeastern Naturalist. 13(2014):26-39. Web.

12 thoughts on “Keeping Our Friends Close, But Not Too Close…

  1. Amy D'Arcey

    I suppose you’re right, people don’t always care about protecting animals. Maybe this is one case where the fear that people have for the species will end up helping them rather than harming them in a way. Since people are scared of bears they are maybe more likely to take the precautions that keep the bears away, whereas if it was a cute little species they wouldn’t listen and would keep leaving their garbage out. Like raccoons, no one keeps their trash inside away from raccoons.

  2. mberne

    I agree that some people do not have a desire to protect animals, and I agree with Amy on the fact that people have more of a fear for bears than raccoons and see them as more of a threat, there fore they would try harder to keep them away in fear of having to have a close encounter with them!

  3. Gabe

    It seems that every large predator across the globe is in danger of human encroachment. I really like how you laid out the “extinction vortex” that is being created by our encroachment. It makes me wonder about other control methods besides the trashcans, like smell repellents or rubber bullets.

  4. Lisa Angeloni

    I agree that an important part of solving this problem will be managing bear AND human behavior. Keep an eye out for the upcoming work of Colorado State grad student, Stacy Lischka, who is working Colorado Parks and Wildlife to take a social science perspective on understanding human-bear conflict. She has surveyed thousands of residents of Durango, CO, to ask about their interactions with black bears and their perceptions of management strategies.

  5. sberg

    I remember hearing on the news about the one bear that took a huge trash can with him so that he could rummage through and I think that was in Denver somewhere. But you are right about humans needing to be better about protecting the Bears with the bear proof trash can, like you said.

  6. ematth

    I too live on a mountain where bears are a common occurrence — my dad has walked in on a bear in our garage as well! I think your preventative measures are right on point for solving (or at least decreasing) human-bear conflicts in neighborhoods and public areas. Where I’m from, it recently became a law that you cannot put your garbage out for pick up until the morning of. This has significantly decreased the number of bears in neighborhoods, and increased the safety for home owners and their children and pets. We also have bear proof trashcans all over the city, which works extremely well. Another option that has been implemented where I am from are “honk for bears” signs at dump sites. Bears can crawl into large dumpsters, and in many instances, the bears are not seen until a shocked human opens the dumpster to find a bear staring back at them.

  7. amajor

    Sadly, it is true that a great deal of people don’t want to protect animals. To be fair, as a species, we mostly care about our needs and wants. If anything came in our way and make things hard for us, we just want to get rid of it by almost ANY means, whether it’s lethal or not, we just want that issue gone for good. But, thankfully, there are people who do care about animals, bears being among them. It’s people like that that can give us hope in not only animals surviving with us, but in humanity as well.

  8. reneev

    I agree that people usually just see wildlife as a nuisance, even if we are living in their territory. For some people it might be preferable to relocate the animals or put them in zoos, rather than take 5 extra minutes a day to make sure the animals don’t come into contact with humans.

  9. ssteele1

    I think city and town adaptations to keep the bears from getting into trash are great, but I also think we should be doing more to keep them out of the city in the first place. Condors are often supplemented with carcasses to aid in their conservation programs, so a similar idea could be applied to bears. Stores with outdated fruit and meat could be donated to put out inside naturalistic areas to draw bears out of towns and cities. This may a temporary solution while the lack of food problem is dealt with within their habitat.

  10. leorah

    Bear-proofing bird feeders and trash cans is a really good method for cities and towns in the mountains. I was wondering – if bears get into things and call problems in an area like a camping ground that’s supposed to be a little more “wild,” are managers more lenient with the bears? Or is a trash can-type issue the same no matter where it occurs?

  11. Savimay

    I think non-lethal methods are the best way to handle these situations because if the bears learn to avoid cities then they can pass that on to their offspring. If we just kill the bears there is no learning involved. The main goal would be making food unavailable to the bears so they are not reinforced by a food reward when they come into cities. The second goal would be adding some non-lethal negative reinforcement so they can learn from the experience.

  12. Lacey Humphreys

    I was just reading about how electric fences can be a good deterrents for polar bears that raid landfills, beehives and local gardens in the Arctic. They are fairly cheap, easy to install and they do not hurt or cause permanent damage to the bear. I am wondering if it would be a good method to put in place for people who like grow their own gardens in the summer here in Colorado. I think your article is very interesting, we need to learn how to live with wildlife instead of killing them because we do not like their proximity to us…

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