Even as bear activity slows, humans must continue to be bear aware

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) received 3,083 bear reports from April 1 through Oct. 1, 2023, a decrease from the 3,637 reports over the same timeframe the previous year. That number will continue to grow before bears slow their activity as the year comes to a close.

There are an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 bears in Colorado and every year the majority of incident reports involve bears trying to access human food sources. CPW continues calling on residents to remove attractants to reduce conflicts, keeping you and the bears safe.

“Bears are biologically driven to pack on calories in preparation for winter and spend increasing amounts of time looking for the most efficient way to get food,” said Area 11 Wildlife Manager Mike Brown, whose region covers south central Colorado. “We ask residents to secure their trash by utilizing a bear-resistant dumpster and ask residents and visitors to lock their cars, secure their homes, and remove all attractants to prevent any conflicts with bears.”

Bear reports are down statewide in 2023, though there are still some areas of concern. CPW’s bear report numbers since the start of hyperphagia indicate that CPW’s Area 11 (Pueblo, Huerfano, Las Animas and Custer counties) is seeing more bear calls this year than the last two.

Bear reports received, Aug. 1 – Sept. 30:
2021: 887 statewide | 19 for Area 11
2022: 1,571 statewide | 45 for Area 11
2023: 878 statewide | 127 for Area 11

“A large portion of human-bear interactions within the area have resulted from unnecessary conflict due to poor trash management, storage of pet food, and unprotected apiaries,” Brown said. “Additional conflicts have arisen from people leaving doors and windows open in addition to irresponsibly camping in bear country.”

Brown encouraged folks to reach out to their local wildlife office for additional tips and advice to help bear proof their residence.

Food availability is a major driver of bears slowing their activity during the winter months. If food remains available due to people not securing their trash, bird seed, pet food, etc., bears will remain active year-round.

That is why CPW promotes Bear Aware principles year-round, aiming to minimize interactions that put both humans and bears at risk. Being “Bear Aware” includes easy-to-execute behaviors such as:

  • Securing trash cans and dumpsters
  • Removing bird feeders
  • Closing garages doors even when at home
  • Cleaning and locking your car and house doors
  • Calling CPW when bears become a nuisance. When you call to report a bear coming near your home, CPW can give you tips tailored to your situation to prevent them from coming around in the future.

In an effort to help communities co-exist with bears, CPW provides local Colorado communities with financial resources to support efforts that reduce human-bear conflicts through its Human-Bear Conflict Reduction Community Grant Program. This spring, CPW offered up to $1 million, distributed through a competitive grant process.

Drought conditions and other factors that may influence the availability of natural food crops for bears vary across the state, as does people’s behavior when it relates to human-bear interactions.

Below is a localized perspective on bear activity across the state in 2023. See a map of CPW Area boundaries here.

Area 1 – Clear Creek, Gilpin, Park and west side of Jefferson counties
“Bears have been extremely bothersome and continue to be. Overall, it seems we had an average number of nuisance calls but have had more house/cabin break-ins to unoccupied structures than in the past. In several localized areas, bears have figured out that unoccupied cabins/homes might contain food. There have been break-ins near Idaho Springs, Fairplay and Deckers. We had a bear that figured out Airbnb and Vrbo home rentals provide opportunities to get food when renters leave for the day and leave windows open. Screen windows and doors are no match for a bear. For unknown reasons, we did have a large increase in roadkill bears with 10 this year.” ~ Mark Lamb, Area 1 Wildlife Manager

Area 2 – Boulder, Broomfield, the southern portion of Larimer counties including Loveland, portions of southwestern Weld County
“Human-bear interactions have been high this year in Area 2. Trash, bird seed, beehives, livestock, tents, homes/garages, vacation cabins, vehicles, crops and pet food have all been targets. The public should haze bears using whatever methods they are comfortable with (noise, bear spray, water hose, etc.). Make sure to call CPW during business hours or State Patrol Dispatch after hours (303-239-4501) to report any bear incidents so we can respond appropriately.” ~ Jason Duetsch, Area 2 Wildlife Manager

Area 3 – No reported bear activity in northeast Colorado

Area 4 – Larimer and Weld counties
“Area 4 had a moderately busy year regarding reported bear activity. Most of the activity was in the communities just north of Fort Collins and the foothill subdivisions northwest of Fort Collins. The natural forage conditions were good due to the spring moisture, which may explain why we did not have a lot of bear activity within the city of Fort Collins. We did have a few bears move through the city but it was less than we normally see. As for the aforementioned communities, most of the conflict was centered around trash and bird feeders. We did have a couple of apiaries hit by bears and several home break-ins in the foothill subdivisions. The break-ins were a mix of second homes and primary residences.” ~ Jason Surface, Area 4 Wildlife Manager

Area 5 – Denver Metro Area counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Jefferson and portions of Broomfield County)
“Overall, Area 5 has seen a slight reduction in human-bear conflicts from previous years but localized issues around the Douglas and Jefferson County line remain high. Acorn crops in higher elevations were inconsistent this year with better crops located within the communities that border the forest. Trash management and bird feeders remain the most common issues in these communities. Residents are reminded to secure their trash and not put it out until the morning of trash pickup. Residents are also reminded to close their garage doors, lock their cars and remove bird feeders/hummingbird feeders to prevent bears from becoming habituated to human-provided food sources.” ~ Matt Martinez, Area 5 Wildlife Manager

Area 6 – Rio Blanco and Moffat counties
“Area 6 has seen fewer human-bear interactions this year compared to past years. It was a banner natural bear forage year with excellent mast production of berries and acorns across much of the area. Game damage claims varied within the area, from very few conflicts in certain places to below-average/average conflicts in others. Once mast became available, bear/livestock (mainly domestic sheep) conflicts reduced significantly. Mandatory bear harvest checks conducted by area staff also appear below average this year.” ~ Johnathan Lambert, Area 6 Wildlife Manager

Area 7 – Grand Junction; Mesa and Garfield counties
“This year, we have seen significantly fewer conflicts from Fruita to New Castle than the previous four years. This is likely due to the availability of natural food sources. Most conflicts continue to occur in/near the Rifle area. Residents should still be complacent and secure doors and close garages. If residents see bears in urban areas or have bears creating issues in the rural areas, please reach out to the local CPW office so we can prevent serious problems before they happen.” ~ Kirk Oldham, Area 7 Wildlife Manager

Area 8 – Aspen, Glenwood Springs; Eagle and Pitkin counties
“So far this year human-bear conflict numbers in the Roaring Fork and Eagle Valley’s are significantly down due to better natural forage production. Even with natural food sources available, staff still saw an unreasonably high number of bears entering houses. Bears never belong in homes. There is no reason bears should be entering or attempting to enter houses when natural, more appropriate food sources are available. As we head into the fall foraging months, we encourage people not to let their guard down and continue to be diligent about removing attractants and securing anything you don’t want a bear to gain access to.” ~ Matt Yamashita, Area 8 Wildlife Manager

Area 9 – Breckenridge, Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby; Grand and Summit counties
“Although incidents are down slightly from last year in Area 9, we’ve seen a significant increase in unnecessary conflicts with bears in Grand County as a result of poor trash management and unlocked and/or opened doors and windows despite a decent natural food year. We are thankful that some residents are being responsible and have taken action to live with wildlife, but it ultimately takes a community effort. We continue to ask residents and guests to remove attractants, secure your homes, camp responsibly, and remember to lock your vehicles. It takes everyone doing their part to care for Colorado’s wildlife.” ~ Jeromy Huntington, Area 9 Wildlife Manager

Area 10 – Steamboat Springs; Jackson and Routt counties
“In Area 10, we had a severe winter which led to a surplus in water resources, improved soil moisture, and ultimately strong growth of vegetation, forage, and invertebrates. We did not have a late freeze and overall forage conditions are good across the Area. The late spring and early summer months included average human-bear conflicts in and around Steamboat Springs. Unfortunately, several bears were removed due to conflict with humans (home entry). During late summer, conflicts continued but not at the level seen during the early part of the season.

Education efforts on the ground included a door-to-door campaign near downtown Steamboat due to a high volume of human-bear conflicts. Media involvement was unprecedented this year with the assistance of the Northwest Region PIO Rachael Gonzales’ work in Steamboat Springs to get the word out about how to minimize conflicts with bears and to tell the story about why bears are frequently seen in Steamboat Springs. Steamboat Radio (Shannon Lukens) was also instrumental in getting more information out this year than in years past through radio announcements and social media.” ~ Kris Middledorf, Area 10 Wildlife Manager

Area 11 – Pueblo, Trinidad, South-Central Colorado
“Area 11 has more human-bear interactions in 2023 compared to 2022. Late spring snow and freezing temperatures affected acorn and other mast crop production at higher elevations and throughout the foothills. Great summer precipitation led to abundant fruit and grass production throughout the area. Bears have been found concentrating among the best food sources. With bears having an increased utilization of concentrated food across the landscape, portions of Area 11 have seen much higher hunter harvest as the animals travel to seek out patches of high-quality food.” ~ Mike Brown, Area 11 Wildlife Manager

Area 12 – Las Animas, Baca and Otero counties
“With increased moisture this year in Southeast Colorado we have seen a bumper crop of forage in the area. While this has minimized conflicts, we still have some conflicts with beehives. It is vital that residents utilize electric fencing to protect their apiaries from bears.” ~ Todd Marriott, Area 12 Wildlife Manager.

Area 13 – Chaffee, Fremont and Lake counties 
“The Upper Arkansas Valley, including the area around Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida, and Cañon City, had a typical bear conflict season. The area received good snowpack and early spring rains. But it dried up during the summer, limiting the fruit and acorn production. Bear activity has been steady throughout the area and there are still reports of bear issues around homes in early October. We continue to encourage people to remove and minimize attractants around their homes. Attractants include bird feeders, fallen fruit and, of course, trash.

CPW’s recommendations to reduce conflicts with wildlife, including bears, only work if homeowners and visitors consistently follow the suggestions. The Upper Arkansas Valley is experiencing increased conflicts with bears and hobby farming operations. More people are living in rural areas and raising various livestock for their own interests. We encourage hobby producers to secure and protect their animals. A small amount of prevention will reduce conflicts and safeguard livestock.” ~ Sean Shepherd, Area 13 Wildlife Manager

Area 14 – Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs; El Paso and Teller counties
“In the Colorado Springs area, we had a relatively mild bear conflict year. We started out with several conflicts due to drought but fortunately, in mid-June, we received a lot of rain and have been getting plenty of moisture ever since. This improved the availability of natural food sources. The city trash ordinance on the west side of town has helped reduce conflicts over the last few years. We did receive a late freeze in May that may have reduced some of the mast crop in the area, so conflicts may go up again as we move into the late fall, but only time will tell. We continue encouraging people to keep their garage doors closed and secure all food and scent attractants.” ~ Tim Kroening, Area 14 Wildlife Manager

Area 15 – Durango
“Area 15 saw a slight increase in human-bear conflict reports compared to last year, but overall it was a relatively average year with a good acorn crop providing natural forage for bears. Unsecured trash continues to be the main attractant involved in the reported human-bear conflicts. Well over 50% of reports from this year involved trash and roughly 25% involved livestock. We continue to ask the public to do their part in securing trash and other attractants around homes like bird feeders and pet food.” ~ Adrian Archuleta, Area 15 Wildlife Manager

Area 16 – Gunnison Basin, North Fork Valley
“Late spring and summer brought fairly active bear seasons to Area 16, particularly in the Gunnison and Cedaredge areas. This was likely related to the prolonged spring we experienced, delays in plant development, and concentrations of bears at low and mid-elevations due to persistent snow. As usual, most conflicts centered around mismanaged trash, with Area staff working diligently to educate our communities and mitigate where possible.

This year it’s worth noting that we experienced an above-average number of bears entering human structures and cars, suggesting that bears are increasingly being habituated to people across the landscape. Area 16 is imploring our communities to avoid complacency; bears will continue to be very active until hibernation, so we strongly encourage our local residents to assess their properties and remove potential bear attractants. These include trash, bird feeders, pet food, fruit trees and fruit waste. Homeowners can also help avoid bear conflicts by locking their doors at night, securing lower-level windows and doors, as well as pet-doors.

The glass half-full is that natural bear foods seem relatively abundant this fall, and the number of conflicts being reported across Area 16 has declined. That said, there are still a handful of bears in our communities taking advantage of human subsidies, so let’s keep working towards bear-proofing and encouraging local bears to move on to wilder places.” ~ Brandon Diamond, Area 16 Wildlife Manager

Area 17 – San Luis Valley
“Bear conflict reports were slightly below average in Area 17 this year. Trash is still the leading cause of human-bear conflict, but fruit is also a major attractant for bears across our area. We remind the public to be vigilant about picking up fallen fruit this fall to keep bears away from residential areas. Securing trash properly is the best way to prevent conflict and keep our bears wild.” ~ Rick Basagoitia, Area 17 Wildlife Manager

Area 18 – Incorporating Montrose, Delta, Mesa Ouray and San Miguel counties
“A long, wet winter with lots of snow brought much-needed moisture to Area 18. Grasses and forbs grew well, and berries, acorns, and nuts are abundant thanks to some late summer moisture. As fall progresses, we ask for increased diligence in keeping human and bird food sources put away so we don’t lure bears with high-calorie treats they want in preparation for winter. Trash is especially harmful to bears, so please keep trash away from bears to keep them safe and wild.” ~ Rachel Sralla, Area 18 Wildlife Manager

Become Bear Aware
Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers a reminder that by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid human/wildlife conflicts and help to keep bears wild.

Bearproofing your home:

  • Keep garbage in a well-secured location. Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
  • Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them free of food odors: ammonia is effective.
  • Keep garage doors closed.
  • Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.
  • Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.
  • Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.
  • Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, haze it by yelling, throwing things at it and making loud noises to scare it off.
  • Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.
  • Clean the grill after each use and clean up thoroughly after cookouts.
  • If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.
  • Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear aware.

Cars, traveling and campsites:

  • Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.
  • Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.
  • Do not keep food in your vehicle; roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.
  • When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle.
  • Keep a clean camp, whether in a campground or in the backcountry.
  • When camping in the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite; don’t bring any food into your tent.
  • Cook food well away from your tent; wash dishes thoroughly.

Protecting your chickens, bees and livestock:

  • Keep chickens, bees and livestock in a fully covered enclosure, especially at night.
  • Construct electric fencing when possible.
  • Don’t store livestock feed outside.
  • Keep enclosures clean to minimize animal odors.
  • As a scent deterrent, hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure.

Media resources
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is providing additional resources to assist with your media coverage on being Bear Aware in Colorado this fall so residents can work towards keeping our bears wild.

The link below contains:
Facts and figures folder with 2022 bear report breakdowns, bear report progression map, black bears at a glance fact sheet, sample bear reports, bear aware materials.
Folders with photos and videos from bear encounters for use by media outlets.

2023 Bear Media Package
Thank you for helping CPW spread the word on the importance of being Bear Aware and making small adjustments to your home and outdoor routines to keep wildlife in mind.