DENVER (KDVR) — The number one bear attractant linked to bear-related property damage in Colorado is, by far, trash.
Trash was to blame for 1,075 cases of property damage by bears in 2022. The next-highest attractant was livestock at 377 cases, according to reports from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The bear’s natural diet consists of berries, nuts, plants and fruits. So what inspires its taste for trash?
The short answer is that bears are smart and can stock up on calories more efficiently by dumpster diving than scavenging for berries.
Trash, with a side of garbage
Most bear incident reports in 2022 happened when bears were in hyperphagia, which is an increase in feeding activity driven by biological needs, according to CPW.
Hyperphagia is during the late summer and early fall months, particularly August through October, when bears are packing on the pounds ahead of a long winter’s nap.
Bears will spend up to 20 hours each day seeking out food to satisfy their pre-hibernation appetite of 20,000 calories, CPW said. Bears have a sense of smell 100 times stronger than that of humans and can smell food from 5 miles away.
That sense of smell and craving for calories inspires bears to overcome their fear of humans, often directing them straight to the trash.
It would take 20 pounds of berries to feed a bear for one day. But the trash offers an assortment of high-calorie options, conveniently located in one place. At least it smells that way to a hungry bear.
Keeping bears out of the trash
Bears are willing to work hard to get into trash and garbage because the food reward is so great, according to CPW. Once a bear gets that reward, they will often come back for more or even pursue further into homes and vehicles in search of an easy meal.
As bears enter hyperphagia, CPW is reminding the public to make sure garbage cans and trash receptacles are bearproof. Typical garbage cans are not bearproof, even if the lid snaps shut. It is not hard for a bear to open a can or even break it.
If you do not have a bearproof garbage container, CPW recommends locking your trash can in a garage, shed or some kind of enclosure. A chainlink fence won’t keep a bear out — they can climb or dig under it. But a chainlink enclosure with a roof and a concrete bottom will keep them out.
They will still be attracted to the smell, however, so you want to be sure there isn’t anything else around that they might want to get into. See other ways to keep bears out of the house.
Lastly, you can clean your trash containers with ammonia or bleach to avoid attracting bears with various odors.