Human food triggers bear baby boom
Turns out that humans’ trash isn’t just bears’ treasure — it may actually promote pregnancy, creating an unwanted cycle of more bears generationally accustomed to easy eats.
Wildlife managers have put down five bears and relocated two this season within the Glenwood Springs city limits.
Glenwood police say they are continually issuing tickets for unsecured garbage. The Carbondale Police Department announced last week that officers are going to stop giving warnings and start writing tickets. In the western part of Carbondale and in River Valley Ranch a sow and cub had been spotted getting into garbage recently.
Dan Cacho, Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager, set up a trap Friday in the hopes of capturing a bear in Glenwood’s Park East neighborhood that crawled into a home through a kitchen window. And Cacho can’t say yet whether that bear would be relocated or euthanized, considering its “fairly aggressive behavior.”
“At some point, we have to draw the line when it comes to health and human safety,” he said. “And unfortunately, the animal is on the losing side of that.”
In this instance, luckily, the bear was scared off and escaped back out the way it came. But if an animal feels trapped, it could easily become more aggressive and end much worse, said Cacho.
The easy meals in town not only attract bears but might also be triggering their hormones to make more bear babies.
Bears go through a process called delayed implantation, said Cacho. Sows and boars usually mate in mid-summer, then the female will delay implantation of the fertilized egg until she’s back in her den around December.
At that point, based on the female bear’s body condition, her hormones will tell her body to either attach that fertilized egg in her ovaries, or she will just reabsorb it. Essentially the bear’s body knows whether she can sustain a pregnancy, and it avoids producing more mouths to feed.
Wildlife managers suspect that bears’ plentiful access to human food is artificially keeping their bodies in a state to reproduce more — even when their natural food source is scarce.
Human communities produce a number of sources of food for bears, such as pet food or fruit trees. But unsecured garbage is one of biggest sources.
Cacho said we’re artificially bolstering the bear population by keeping them in an environment where food is always available. And this might not be a good thing if the goal is to minimize bear-human conflicts and their natural food source is actually scare.
Some years the bears’ natural food sources — oak brush, serviceberry and chokecherry — are simply not producing many berries and acorns.
“We see some years where the natural food sources for bears are undergoing an almost complete food failure,” said Cacho. But the next spring, wildlife managers find that bears are still having twins or triplets, indicating that they’re getting enough food to carry cubs.
So cutting down on those artificial food sources will be very important. And residents need to know the harm they’re doing if they’re feeding the bears, said Cacho.
“If you’re feeding bears, you’re doing nothing but harm to them, and you’re creating a dangerous situation for yourself and your neighbors.” Often neighbors won’t know that’s happening, then suddenly they find an aggressive bear in their neighborhood, he said.
Cacho said that some residents who see a bear repeatedly may be worried that if they call CPW, it’s a death sentence for the bear. But he emphasized that if no one calls about the bear, and that animal becomes more comfortable around humans and grows more aggressive, that leaves no choice but to euthanize it.
“Really, we don’t want to euthanize them if we can help it, and we’ll do everything we can to prevent that,” said Cacho.
Now is the time to make sure you’re not giving bears an easy meal. Over the next two weeks bear feeding is expected to ramp up as they prepare for fall and winter.