DENVER (KDVR) — Spring is here and that means bears will be waking up from a long winter’s nap. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it has already received reports of bear activity in 14 counties.

CPW said that males, or boars, are the first to leave their winter dens. After that, females, or sows, that didn’t give birth over the winter will leave hibernation. The last bears to leave their winter homes are sows who gave birth to this year’s cubs. Those bears will typically emerge in late April, according to CPW.

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, or trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” said Mark Lamb, CPW’s area wildlife manager for Area 1 which covers Park, Gilpin and Clear Creek counties along with the western half of Jefferson County. “People who think that it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one timers’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

Bear activity in 2021

CPW said it got 3,701 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears in 2021, which they said was a 28% decrease from the average number of reports over the previous two years in the state.

Sources of bear conflicts include:

  • Bears trying to get into trash
  • Birdfeeders
  • Livestock
  • Bears getting into open garages
  • Items that are left unsecured

Here’s a look back at some of the bear conflicts from 2021:

What to do if a bear attacks

Bear attacks are extremely rare in Colorado. Deadly bear attacks are even rarer. There have only been four documented deadly bear attacks in the state.

If you are attacked by a bear, one of the most important reminders from the National Park Service and CPW is to not play dead.

“When you come across a black bear in Colorado, do not ever run from it and do not climb a tree,” said Jason Clay with CPW. “You should remain calm and stand still, you want to talk to that bear and make yourself look bigger, open your jacket or wave your hands. Talk to it firmly and calmly, not in a panic. Back away slowly and the bear should identify you and go away on its own.”

The NPS says you should also try to escape to a secure place such as a car or building. If escape is not possible, try to fight back using any object available. Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear’s face and muzzle.

What to do if you come across a bear

Whether you are hiking, taking your dog for a walk, or spending time outside in the foothills and mountains, there are ways you can prepare in case you come across a bear.

Here are some tips from CPW:

If you see a bear on a trail:

  • Stand still, stay calm and let the bear identify you and leave. Talk in a normal tone of voice. Be sure the bear has an escape route.
  • Never run or climb a tree. 
  • If you see cubs, their mother is usually close by. Leave the area immediately

If a bear does not leave:  

  • A bear standing up is just trying to identify what you are by getting a better look and smell. 
  • Wave your arms slowly overhead and talk calmly. If the bear huffs, pops it jaws or stomps a paw, it wants you to give it space. 
  • Step off the trail to the downhill side, keep looking at the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight.

If a bear approaches:

  • A bear knowingly approaching a person could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout or, very rarely, an aggressive bear. Don’t feed this type of bear: instead, stand your ground. Yell or throw small rocks in the direction of the bear.
  • Get out your bear spray and use it when the bear is about 40 feet away. 
  • If you’re attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available. People have successfully defended them­selves with pen knives, trekking poles, and even bare hands.
  • Be alert at all times, and leave your headphones at home. Be extra cautious at dawn and dusk, when the wind is in your face, visibility is limited or you’re walking by a noisy stream. A firm clap or quick shout warns bears that humans are in the area.

How to bearproof your home

Bear-proofing your home is not only important to your safety but also important for protecting bears.

“Simple changes in human behavior can reap big benefits. If people keep their trash and other potential food items, like birdseed and dog food, off-limits to bears, not only will they protect their homes and property from bear damage, but they’ll also protect bears,” National Wildlife Research Center wildlife biologist Dr. Stewart Breck said.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Do not attract other wildlife by feeding them, such as deer, turkeys or small mammals.
  • Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, yell at it, throw things at it, make noise to scare it off.
  • Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.
  • Clean the grill after each use.
  • Clean up thoroughly after picnics in the yard or on the deck.
  • If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.
  • If you keep small livestock, keep animals in a fully covered enclosure. Construct electric fencing if possible.
  • Don’t store livestock food outside, keep enclosures clean to minimize odors, and hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure.
  • If you have beehives, install electric fencing where allowed.
  • Talk to your neighbors and kids about being bear-aware.
  • Keep garage doors closed.

How to bearproof your vehicles and campsites

Here are some tips from CPW to keep your vehicles and campsites secure from bears:

  • 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 you’re 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.

CPW has created the Human-Bear Conflict Reduction Community Grant to help protect both bears and people. The grant would provide funding to communities looking to reduce human-bear conflicts.

Applicants can apply by May 6 at 5 p.m. for grants between $50,000 and $500,000. To apply, visit CPW’s website.