Derek Hidell’s neighborhood has a bear problem.
Hidell is the president of a small HOA of about 20 homes, about half of them year-round residents, near Grand Lake. The bear took a liking to the neighborhood’s Dumpster, clawing its way up its fenced corral and demolishing its plastic cover.
“I don’t know how the bear does it, it’s the most heavy-duty plastic lid you can get,” Hidell said. “He must use it like a trampoline; he smashed it totally.”
The bear hasn’t just scavenged the Dumpster. It has snatched bird feeders and snooped around on porches. Hidell’s wife even caught it in their garage, sniffing out a trash bag.
Hidell shooed him away, but the bear didn’t move very fast. Hidell, neighbors and the Trash Company estimate it weighs around 350 pounds.
“He’s really big and round, just kind of waddles when he walks,” he said. “But I think he was more afraid of me than I was of him.”
Fall brings a busy feeding season for area bears, and an important time to stay bear aware, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“Those bears are (now) eating up to 23 hours a day,” said Mike Crosby, wildlife manager for the Hot Sulphur Springs district. “It’s the hyperphagia stage, when they’re storing calories for the upcoming winter, when they go down and den.”
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife information, bears will consume up to 20,000 calories a day to prepare for hibernation. Foraging can often lead them into residential areas, lured by the scent of human garbage, pet food and bird feed.
“Their sense of smell is really what drives a bear’s actions, they can smell tremendous distances,” Crosby said.
In Grand County, human-bear encounters have slowed in recent weeks as wild berry season has started to peak. The summer’s rain brought a large crop of raspberries, choke cherries and service berries — tasty high-calorie snacks for bears. But Crosby said the animals are still opportunistic feeders.
“If there’s good, ripe garbage, a dead cow or a dead moose, they’ll take advantage of what they can find,” he said. “In the past, (they’ve chewed) through wooden garage doors to get to something they can smell.”
With their priorities concentrated on feeding, bears are more difficult to spook. Wildlife managers’ goal with encounters and bear problems is prevention.
In cases of bear sightings in residential areas, wildlife officials recommend yelling, clapping and making other loud noises to shoo the bear and make it uncomfortable. But under no circumstances should bears be approached or cornered.
In Derek Hidell’s neighborhood, the HOA has opted to install new metal lids on its Dumpster, but he worries that could even escalate the problem. Because the metal lids are heavier than plastic lids, elderly residents and young children have difficulty opening them and opt to throw garbage bags on the ground instead. The HOA has explained the importance of trash vigilance through meetings and emails. Hidell hopes the efforts will be effective.
“That (bear) will be sleeping as soon as the white stuff gets on the ground, then we won’t have a problem,” he said. “Until another seven months goes by, anyway.”