Two words pop into my head these days when the phone rings: fruit trees. A month ago, the phone conversations went: “There's a mama bear in the backyard ... with a cub. How adorable!”
Recently, there's been a measurable shift in tone: “Bears are destroying our fruit tree and looking into our windows. How do we get them out of here?”
With natural foods in poor condition, fruit trees are bringing in bears – and keeping bears near people – increasing the possibility of human-bear encounters.
The best advice is to protect fruit trees with electric fencing (county only), or get all the fruit off the tree before it ripens. Any fallen fruit should be removed so bears don't become accustomed to hanging out in yards. If you can't pick it all yourself, I'm sure someone would be thrilled with some free fruit.
Trying to chase off bears while a food source remains will be an aggravating and futile exercise in sleep deprivation – and a temporary solution at best.
A few recurring themes have become apparent this bear season:
Many residents are missing the connection between human foods and having bears around. Bears are here for a variety of reasons, but a key factor is that they are finding food. If your neighborhood has bird-feeders up, trash containers that aren't stored away or bear-resistant, or unpicked fruit, it should come as no surprise when bears come calling, suitcases packed. And this will play out either by removing the foods that are attracting bears, or the eventual removal of the bear. (In less polite terms, killed.)
We are training bears to live among us and then are surprised when bears cause problems. Many of us, to a point, enjoy seeing bears. But I cringed last week when a city resident mentioned the four to five “nice” bears paying daily visits to her home, but balked at the idea that the best thing she could do would be to run them off.
Despite city, county and state laws outlawing the feeding of bears, there appears to be little consequence for feeding them. Who would expect anyone to bring in bird-feeders, bear-proof their trash if there's no penalty, or even a threat of penalty, for not doing so? I changed my behavior in driving the speed limit near my home mainly because of the presence of law enforcement. Without it, without doubt, I'd drive faster. The same goes for being held accountable while living in bear country.
Subdivisions need to be self-reliant and resolve problem areas within their communities. It should be a given that the safety of residents is of utmost concern. And, imagine the frustration of wildlife officers coming out to deal with a “nuisance” bear only to discover a cornucopia of human foods available to bears.
Nationwide, black bears are doing well and the area bear population is likely healthy. The bear population is a factor, but to say that's the main reason for the growing number of human-bear issues is flawed, narrow-minded and lazy.
Unfortunately, this is where we are in dealing with human-bear conflict. It's human nature to not deal with problems until they become paramount, but this should have been addressed in milder bear seasons – in the middle of a difficult one is too late. Our neglect in not addressing the issue is biting us in the behind, hopefully not literally.
Bp@frontier.net. Bryan Peterson is director of Bear Smart Durango. Durangobearsmartdurango.org.