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There are between 8,000 and 12,000 bears in Colorado and most of them will awaken from their winter hibernation within the next few weeks.

As the temperatures warm and snow pack melts, nature provides and new generation of tender young plants for bears to eat.

Adult male bears usually emerge from their dens first. Females with cubs tend to come out later.

For the first few weeks following hibernation, bears drink lots of water, helping their digestive system adjust. Once they are ready to eat again, they become relentless in their search for food. New grass, dandelions, and young plants are typical natural foods — but bears are opportunists and will eat anything they find.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) reminds people that an ounce of prevention is worth 200 pounds of cure. “Many people do not realize that a few simple precautions can minimize the chance of unwanted encounters with bears. Right now, is the best time to walk your property and remove any bear attractants from sight and smell,” said Bob Davies, a senior biologist with the DOW. He recommends “bear-proofing” your property by removing items a bear might consider potential food sources such as bird feeders, pet food left outside or unsecured trash cans.

These things may seem insignificant, but they can create behavior patterns in bears which often cannot be reversed. If there was bear activity in your neighborhood last year, you’ll need to be extra careful this year, as bears will return to the same locations where they have been successful finding food in the past. If the home or business owner does not take action to remove the bear attractants (anything that smells like potential food), it is only a matter of time before the bear will return.

If you regularly see a bear on your property, assess the situation by discovering what is attracting the bear and take steps to remove the attractant.

Bears are generally shy and usually avoid humans, but their need for food and sense of smell often draws them to human residences.

Remember, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” By making food available to a bear, people train it to associate humans with food. Once a bear learns this association, it can become dangerous and often must be killed.

Colorado has a “two strike” rule for dealing with problem bears. The first time a bear gets into trouble, it receives an ear tag marking it as a problem bear. Another serious encounter, or “second strike,” means the bear will be killed.

Here are some tips to prevent bears from becoming habituated to human food:

* Take down, clean and put away bird feeders. Bear damage to bird feeders is a common complaint. Once a bear has found a feeder in your yard, it will likely look around for other easy foods within reach.

* Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area. Clean trash cans with ammonia or bleach occasionally to reduce odors that attract bears.

* Consider a bear-proof dumpster – if not available, ask your trash-removal company for options.

* Place garbage for pickup outside just before collection and not the night before.

* Do not place meat or sweet-smelling food scraps such as melon rinds in a compost pile.

* Do not leave pet food or dishes outdoors at night.

* Clean up and store outdoor grills after use. Sticky barbecue sauce and grease can attract bears to your yard.

* Never intentionally feed bears to attract them to your yard for viewing. It’s illegal to feed bears in Colorado – in addition to being bad for the bear; you will be ticketed and fined.