COLORADO SPRINGS — Living in Colorado means there is an increased risk you might have an encounter with a bear.
Though the number of reports involving black bears decreased by nearly 8% from 2019 to 2020, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials are being forced to close campgrounds due to increasing contact between bears and humans this year.
Volunteers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife have developed a new tool called "unwelcome mat," which will help keep bears away.
The "unwelcome mats" are plywood boards with nails hammered into them. They say if the bear steps on the mat the nails will give them a sharp surprise, they say this will deter bears from returning to a certain location.
"While they may look a little bit medieval here, but basically they're just like tack strips for us. So, they're going to give the bear a bit of a prick on the foot, nothing that's going to permanently injure them or cause major damage or anything like that," said District Wildlife Manager Tim Kroening.
They advise keeping kids and pets away from the mats so they don't get hurt. Also, they say to use the mat effectively, you should stake it down because a bear could figure out how to move it out of the way.
How to stay safe (and keep wildlife safe in the process) if you’re heading to Colorado bear country
Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do.
Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make a special effort to be noticeable if you are in an area with known bear activity or a good food source, such as berry bushes, CPW officials say.
If you’re venturing out to bear country, CPW says it’s important that you never leave anything with a scent inside your tent. Cleanliness should also be of utmost priority and campsites should be kept clean at all times to avoid luring any roaming bears looking for food to your campsite.
If the campground you’re staying at has a bear storage locker to secure your food, you should use that, CPW says. If it does not, you should store your food in a bear canister at least 100 feet away from your campsite so a bear does not get rewarded with your food. If you don’t have a bear canister, CPW recommends you lock your food in the trunk of your car as the last resort; however, steps need to be taken to secure your food and trash so a bear cannot get to it.
Once a bear has noticed you and is paying attention to you, there are several things you can do to prevent an attack:
- Identify yourself by talking calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
- Stay calm and remember that most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by wooing, yawning, salivating, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones; this will help you stay calmer, and it won't be threatening to the bear. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.
- Pick up small children immediately.
- Hike and travel in groups. Groups of people are usually noisier and smellier than a single person. Therefore, bears often become aware of groups of people at greater distances, and because of their cumulative size, groups are also intimidating to bears.
- Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground).
- Do NOT allow the bear access to your food. Getting your food will only encourage the bear and make the problem worse for others.
- Do NOT drop your pack as it can provide protection for your back and prevent a bear from accessing your food.
- If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Moving sideways is also non-threatening to bears. Do NOT run, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse both uphill and down. Like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Do NOT climb a tree. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees.
- Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.
- Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs; never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.