Man’s trash is proving to be bears’ treasure in the Wood River Valley this month as at least five adult bears have gotten into trouble while searching for food in preparation for impending hibernation.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lee Garwood said Thursday that he’s aware of at least five adult bears and two cubs active between mid-valley and the Warm Springs base area in Ketchum. While some have been keeping their noses clean, others have stormed through houses and garbage cans.
The most recently active bear was a sow with two cubs in Gimlet. The mother bear broke into a house Wednesday evening and she and her cubs stopped traffic on state Highway 75 Thursday morning.
“[The homeowner] had left a second-story sliding door open,” Garwood said. “This old sow bear climbed an aspen tree and went in. She helped herself to some white rice and an orange.”
Garwood said he’s been busy this week, trapping and relocating a male bear that got into some beehives mid-valley, a yearling bear and an older male bear that have been rifling through trash in west Ketchum, and a yearling bear that walked through a screen door mid-valley and got stuck in a house.
“He got in through the screen door, got the main door closed behind him and just panicked,” Garwood said. “He didn’t even eat anything, just caused a ruckus until he found an open window.”
Bear calls this summer have run around 60 to 70 individual calls, a number Garwood said is five times the amount of calls last year. Why the increase? Drought, he said, and Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson agreed.
“When we get a really dry summer, the berry crops don’t materialize,” he said. “Bears need to put on a lot of weight, their winter fat for hibernation. You see them coming down along the river corridors foraging, where there may be berries or other food sources.”
Other food sources can include garbage or food from the homes in those drainages. Nelson said that bears need to put on anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their total body weight before hunkering down for winter, eating everything from dog food to birdseed.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Kelton Hatch said bears can be attracted to almost anything edible.
“Even suspended bird feeders,” he said. “I’ve seen video of bears hanging upside down going on a rope to get to a bird feeder.”
Hatch said it’s typically loners—like the yearlings mid-valley and in West Ketchum—that come into town looking for easy sources of food.
“It’s like us—some nights we don’t even want to cook,” he said. “They don’t feel like chasing something down or finding berries. So they knock over a garbage can and have all the food they can eat.”
Homeowners with bear concerns should close all ground-level doors and garage doors and even low windows. Screens are not enough to keep a bear out, Garwood said, and bungee cords on trash containers will only slow bears down, not stop them.
He recommends keeping garbage cans in the garage—though he admitted that the residents in west Ketchum do not all have garages in which to store trash.
“There’s nowhere for it to go except out next to the house somewhere,” he said. “We’re hamstrung.”
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org