Bears are scary, but the really scary thing about bears in our area is that we have several generations of garbage-fed bears that aren’t scared of humans, or human scent, or anything having to do with humans. A lot of people have been irresponsible with their garbage in our area for so many years that mother bears have raised their cubs solely on eating human garbage from dumpsters etc. Then those cubs have grown up and done the same thing with their cubs. The bears around here don’t know how to get food anymore without humans. It is so so sad, and very scary.
It used to be that bears broke into dumpsters only. But in recent years they have begun to break into cars, sheds, garages, and even houses in their search for food. They are much stronger and more able to break into things than I would have ever imagined.
My in-laws have several problem bears that frequent their house often. They have a huge metal dumpster, the green kind that is found behind restaurants and such. They have tried everything from chaining it shut, to building a different lid, to electrifying the entire dumpster…nothing works. They had a bear chew and scratch right through a 3/4 piece of plywood, and bend back a metal lid attached to said plywood as if it was a sardine can.
The worst of it was when, about 3 years ago, a bear broke into their house through their kitchen door while they were out-of-town. From what investigators could tell he just pushed and pushed on the door repeatedly until the door broke open, like when police kick a door in and the trim and everything breaks away from around the knob. Once inside he tore apart their pantry and their refrigerator and freezer, eating everything in sight. He took a bunch of the food to the livingroom. He destroyed the whole kitchen and much of the livingroom area. The cat was never found again, we are guessing she ran outside and was too scared to come back home.
After they returned from vacation and had fixed the door and cleaned up the mess the bear came back. He came right to that same door and started trying that same tactic of slamming into the door with all his body weight again. He was doing it over and over again. They were home and scared him off by shooting towards him from an upstairs window.
We’ve had neighbors who had a bear chew/dig a hole right through the center of their large garage door, the one the car drives through, in order to get inside to eat a bag of dog food. And last year there were reports of bears that were able to open car doors that were left unlocked just by manipulating the door handle. It is just out of control. So many bears in our area have to be euthanized each year because of this problem, and it all started with trash not getting locked up.
Back in 2003 we bought a bear-proof dumpster. It cost WAY more than a normal outdoor trash can at a whopping $200, but it served us well for years. We have watched numerous times as bears have tried to get into our bear proof dumpster. They knock it over, they jump on it, they chew on it, they try to pry it open. It has been drug over 100 yards over rocky terrain. It lasted until 2009, when finally, after years of wear and tear, we watched the biggest bear we’ve ever seen in our area jump up and down on it until it broke. We then went right out and bought another one and it is still going strong and keeping the bears out.
Spring and fall are the worst times of year with the bears. In the fall they are preparing to hibernate and thus eating like crazy to put on stores of fat. In spring they wake up hungry and are looking for an easy meal. Unfortunately, last night that meal was our friends’ chickens. The bear tore right through the side of the coop, which was a converted shed. It killed three chickens and severely injured another one. It was the middle of the night and they chased it off in the middle of the attack. There was a spring storm going on, so it was snowing hard and there was already 6 inches of snow on the ground. They screwed some osb over the hole because that is all they could easily grab and do in the middle of the night in the middle of the storm. Later, the bear came back and tore that off too and went back in. They chased it off before it got anything else. They have goat kids due this week, so they are feeling pretty nervous because the bear will likely be back since he was successful the first time.
It makes me nervous because there isn’t really any way to protect livestock from bears like these. We can bury wire to keep foxes and coyotes from digging in, we can use special latches to keep raccoons out, we can lid all our pens to keep bobcats and mountain lions from jumping in, and we can be sure there are no small holes to keep weasels out. But what do you do to keep bears out? If they are strong enough to chew and claw through 3/4-inch plywood? If they can push and shove a man-door in? There is precious little you can do unless you build everything of steel or cement.
We have built our coops and our barn as well as we can. We keep a dog in the barn as an alarm and hopefully deterrent (though our friends have a huge, 150 lb dog that was about 20 yards from the coop last night inside their goat shed barking like crazy and it didn’t affect the situation – the bear knew the dog was confined). But really, there isn’t much that can be done. It makes me SO nervous. All we can do is hope and pray.
This is a yearling bear cub on top of the chicken pen at our old house. The pen had chicken wire across the top, and this bear walked right across the center and it held. As you can see, it was daylight, they don’t only come out at night. And this cub wasn’t at all afraid of people. We did what the “bear experts” told us to do, we opened the door (which is where I am standing taking the photo) and banged pots and pans together, he actually walked towards us at that point. Then my husband started yelling and throwing whatever he could grab at the bear – in this case we had been doing some construction and there were hand-tools right outside the door. He threw a hammer, that landed next to the bear, and then he threw a screw driver, which the butt of hit the bear right on the head. At that point the bear slowly turned around and sauntered off. It was ridiculous.
I will say, however, that thus far the bears have been afraid of our dogs. Holly has chased a full-grown female out of our yard once, and Tundra has treed one and chased off a few different ones at a few different times. I hope this continues to be the case. We need to be able to keep our family safe, and our livestock too.
Managing wildlife/human interactions is a balancing act, and it seems like a lot of the time both sides lose.