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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 1999 /28 Tishrei 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye --
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. People in America's big cities are accustomed to dealing with the frightening realities of urban life: crime, gangs, drugs, violence.

Here in this beautiful town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, things appear so placid, so carefree, so removed from needless worries. . . .

Until you find out about the bears.

It seems that the bears -- Colorado black bears getting ready to hibernate for the winter -- have been coming out of the foothills to look for food so they can fatten up.

"Those bears eat up to 20,000 calories a day," said Michael Seraphin of the Colorado Division of Wildlife's Colorado Springs office.

As well they might. "Some of the bigger adult male black bears weigh 500 pounds," Seraphin said. "A smaller one might weigh 250."

So they get hungry. And they have good memories.

"As they go into a period of heavy foraging before hibernation, they look for acorns, berries, whatever they can find to eat," Seraphin said. "And they go back to where they remember eating those things before."

Which is where the problem comes in.

"A bear might come back to where he ate some acorns," Seraphin said. "And this year, he finds a subdivision there."

This is happening because Colorado is becoming such a popular place to live. People are awestruck by how pretty the scenery is, how clean the air.

"The same kind of places that bears have always liked, people like," Seraphin said. "Right at the edge of the mountains, near the foothills. It's very desirable real estate. For people, and for bears."

So the people build their houses -- and the bears appear. Looking for food.

They don't eat the people.

"They just go through the garbage, and they startle some people who aren't expecting them," Seraphin said.

Which makes a certain sense -- if you look out your kitchen window and see a huge bear staring at you, it might make you reconsider various choices you have made in your life.

This has caused the local newspaper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, to print a list of do's and don't's for people who want to keep bears out of their neighborhoods, and for people who go out for a stroll and find a bear sharing the sidewalk.

(And you thought those Asian longhorned beetles in Chicago's trees were annoying.)

Here is what the Gazette is advising its readers to do:

- "Use `bear-proof' trash containers."

- "Empty and clean garbage cans frequently."

- "Feed pets inside."

- "Clean grease off grills and store inside."

- "Bring in bird feeders at night."

- "If you do come face to face with a bear, stop and back up slowly without making eye contact." - "Speak softly and give the bear plenty of room to escape."

The police in Colorado Springs are so used to hearing about people seeing bears walking around that, according to the dispatcher I spoke with, they don't even send a squad car unless there is an explicit reference to imminent danger.

"We go out only if there's some kind of threat," the dispatcher said. "That usually doesn't happen, unless someone tries to tease a bear or hurt a bear."

On routine bear sightings, he said, callers are referred to the Division of Wildlife. Where staff members most often advise the callers on how to coexist peacefully with the bears.

"A bear would just as soon avoid a confrontation," Seraphin said. "You would be a fool to think that you could just walk right up to a bear. But if you give it some space and slowly back away -- then you'll probably be all right."


"Yes," he said. "If you got scared and turned and ran, the bear's instinct would be to chase you. And bears run very fast."

Oh. And what about that pointer about avoding eye contact? What's that all about?

"Bears perceive eye contact as a threat," he said. "When a bear sees you, it thinks that you are a bear. If you stare, the bear might perceive that as a challenge to find out who is king of the hill."

Should you climb a tree to get away?

"Not a good idea," Seraphin said. "The bears climb trees a lot better than we can."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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