Garbage Kills Bears

The "garbage-killed bear" is more than a cute turn of phrase. Rather it's an accurate description of a tragedy that plays itself out more and more frequently as people move into bear country and bears learn that people carry tasty - if not very nutritious - food.

Not a new problem, but an increasingly troubling one, the traditional solutions don't work. In the past, open space saved bears from becoming threatening pests. They could be moved, or they moved along on their own as humans left parks at the end of summer. No more. The Rocky Mountains are a year-round vacation land and there are no safe places to relocate troublesome bears. Parks try, but it rarely works.

Also rarely succeeding are aversive conditioning techniques like giving bruin a sting with rubber bullets. The drawing power of human food seems to be stronger than any humane aversive conditioning.

Once a bear becomes conditioned to human food it's too late to help. A so-called "problem bear" can't be fixed; it must be prevented. And the only way to prevent it is for every single individual visiting the park and nearby areas to be scrupulously stingy about letting bears have any human food.

a photo of bear-proof trash can

Bear-proof trash cans work well to keep bears out of garbage. They help protect bears from their taste for unhealthy snacks. But they only work is used. Stashing your trash in these containers can save a bear's life.

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a photo of a bear notice

Notices warn visitors about bears' liking for human food. For your own safety and that of other visitors and to keep bears alive, follow the regulations controlling food and other odors.

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a photo of chokecherries

Chokecherries provide a nutritious food for bears toward the end of summer,
when they're bulking up to ready themselves for the cold mountain winter. The goal is to get bears to stick to natural foods, like these chokecherries.

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a photo of a dumpster which a bear has destroyed

These specially constructed dumpsters will foil all but the most determined (and strong)
bear. But even the special locks on these doors didn't help in this case. Habituated bears will exhibit unusual determination in getting into locked containers once they learn the association with human food. When a bear becomes seriously habituated to human garbage, it will even tear the doors off "bear-proof" dumpsites.

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a photo of an auto that a bear damaged

In an extremely unusual case, a bear tore the bumper off this car and got into the trunk. It
also broke open a window (WHY??? WAS THERE FOOD INSIDE??? SCENT???).

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At that point even the old trapping and relocating techniques won't work. The bear will likely be destroyed.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517


970 586-1206
The Information Office is open year-round: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. daily in summer; 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mondays - Fridays and 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Saturdays - Sundays in winter. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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