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Around Our Town...Recreation

Be Bear Aware

10/01/2005 - by Robin Kepple

The arrival of October means snow isn't too far away in much of Wyoming, and if there's one animal that knows how to prepare for a long, cold winter it's a bear.

In fall, bears enter a state of hyperphagia, which is an abnormally increased appetite for – and consumption of – food. This is necessary to build enough fat reserves to survive the winter, when a bear will go about five months without eating.

When days begin to shorten and food resources start to decline, bears gorge themselves to gain large amounts of weight. Finding an adequate amount of food during this time often leads a hungry bear into areas where it wouldn't normally go. Drainages in the foothill country around Casper offer safe corridors for a hungry black bear to search for food. As a result, bears periodically find their way into town and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department urges residents to learn and practice effective methods to avoid attracting bears to their property.

"Bears will look for 'fall foods,' such as apples, crabapples, chokecherries, and anything else that presents an easy meal," said Dennie Hammer, information specialist for the Game and Fish Department. "It's important for Wyoming residents to make certain a bear does not find its next meal in their yard."

Bears have an extremely good sense of smell and will investigate anything that smells like food. They also have good memories, and once rewarded with food will seek out similar situations and return frequently to sites where they once got a free meal. Bears are also intelligent animals and it doesn't take long for them to realize that fruit trees or improperly stored garbage are an easy source of food.

Hammer said the best approach is to bear-proof your property by storing food, garbage and other attractants away from bears.

"In order to prevent bears from becoming a problem, we need to eliminate the food rewards," he said. "Pick up all ripe and rotten fruit off the ground and remove as much fruit as possible from trees and bushes."

Also be sure your property is clear of all household garbage, he said. Store garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters or garbage cans, or keep it indoors until it can be taken to a refuse site. Barbecue grills should also be cleaned and stored indoors.

Hammer said residents who own pets and livestock should also take precautions against attracting bears. "Bears don't really see pets as prey, they're usually looking for an easier meal," he said. However, pet and livestock food left outdoors does attract bears. If you live in an area frequented by bears, feed domestic pets and animals indoors whenever possible. If they must be fed outside, feed them only the amount they will consume at one time.

Because bears often dig to find edible roots, household gardens can often represent a feast for a hungry bear. "They just love carrots and will also dig up a garden for other root vegetables, such as potatoes," Hammer said.

Bird feeders should be suspended at least eight feet off the ground if you live in black bear country, higher if you live in grizzly country. Hammer also recommends taking all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, in the house at night or removing them all together this time of year.

Bears that associate humans with food, or lose their fear of humans, are often killed because it is the only practical option available. Transplanted bears often return from great distances to their home territory, and those that don't return take their raiding habits with them to new areas. Avoiding attracting bears in the first place is the best solution, Hammer said.

Although there are no grizzly bears in the Casper area, Hammer cautions hunters or other outdoor enthusiasts who may be venturing into grizzly country this fall to use extreme caution, clean up after themselves and to honor all food storage orders.

"The habits of a black bear and a grizzly bear are the same in the fall, but a grizzly bear is usually more aggressive in protecting food sources, defending its cubs and defending its space," he said. "If you're hunting in bear country, keep a clean camp," he said. "And if you live in bear country, keep all attractants unavailable to bears."

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