Lock It or Lose It

Have you seen news stories or videos featuring bears “breaking in” to homes and cars looking for food? What many stories don’t mention is that much of the time the bear isn’t breaking in. It’s just following its nose to something that smells like food, cleverly opening an unlocked door or window and making itself at home.

Black bears have relatively short, curved claws (often under 2 inches) that are well adapted for climbing trees and tearing into rotten logs in search of insects. They’re also well-suited for opening lever-style handles and sliding doors, unscrewing jar tops, opening coolers and picnic baskets and pushing up unlocked windows.

Easy In, Tough Getting Out

car damage from trapped bearOur vehicles are often full of food, or stuff that smells like food. Unfortunately, vehicle doors can close on  their own, trapping the enterprising explorer inside. Bears don’t have thumbs, so vehicle doors are much harder for a bear to open from the inside.

Black bears are strong enough to peel down a window that’s open an inch or two and flexible enough that even large bears can crawl through an open window if they see or smell something interesting inside. Research shows that leaving your window cracked open only drops the temperature inside your vehicle by a degree or two, but makes it much easier for a bear to pop out the window to get inside.

Bears are very smart and very strong, and many trapped bears have no problem clawing their way out of the average vehicle. But fur coats are better at keeping bears hot than cool. When temperatures soar, the interior of a car can get hot enough to kill a trapped bear in a matter of minutes.

Even if the bear does manage to get out, many wildlife management agencies have firm policies that dictate that bears that enter homes and/or vehicles must be destroyed.

TIP: Many insurance policies do not cover wildlife damage to vehicles or homes.

Clean Up, Roll Up, Lock Up
  • Get everyone in the habit of cleaning out your vehicle when you get out of it. Don’t leave pet food, bird seed, snacks, trash, chewing gum, candy, scented air fresheners, sunscreen, lip balm, hand lotion or anything else with an odor inside, even for a few hours. Or sitting in the truck bed.
  • Avoid scented air fresheners.
  • Lock your doors and roll up and lock your windows, even if you’re just parked in your driveway or in front of your rental. This will also deter opportunistic humans up to no good.
  • If you’re away from home and must leave a cooler, picnic basket or other goodies in your vehicle, close windows, lock up and store stuff out of sight. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bear country, consider investing in a bear-resistant cooler (learn more).

Planning a road trip? Read our article on Vacationing in Bear Country and download our BearWise Vacation Tips flyer before you hit the road.

bear-damaged garage (John Gage)

Photo: John Gage

Locks and Latches Won’t Work if You Don’t Use Them

If you leave the doors and windows to your home or home-away-from-home open and unlocked, you’re issuing an invitation to bears (and burglars) to drop in, nose around and help themselves. Having a bear drop in unexpectedly can be scary. It only takes a few minutes to lock up it takes a lot longer to clean up after a bear visit.

  • Don’t leave anything with an odor inside a screened-in porch or on or under the deck.
  • Locking screen doors or windows doesn’t do much good; for a bear, clawing through a screen is like brushing away a pesky cobweb.
  • If you live or are visiting an area with a lot of bear activity, close and lock ground floor and other bear-accessible windows and doors (that means upper-level windows and doors a bear could easily access by climbing up a convenient tree ladder or porch post.)
  • Close your garage doors, especially if you store pet food, birdseed or garbage in there.
  • Unless you’re using bear-resistant containers, use a trash bag inside a container with an airtight lid and use ammonia sachets to help mask any lingering odors.

Have a fridge or freezer in your garage? Exhaust vents emit odors we can’t smell but are easily picked up by a bear’s sensitive nose. If you’re lucky, the bear will open the door, rummage around, eat the food with the most calories and leave you with a mess to clean up. If you’re not so lucky, the fridge/freezer door will be stubborn and the bear may need to destroy it to get at the food. If your garage has a flimsy panel door, it’s best not to store anything with an odor inside.

Thanks for being BearWise. You’re helping to people safe and bears alive and wild.

Top photo provided by Sylvia Dolson.
Recommended Posts