Will bears find a good winter den at your place?

Every day an estimated 6,000 acres of open space are converted to other uses, according to the US Forest Service. That’s more than 2 million acres a year of forests, grasslands and wetlands that are now growing homes, communities, businesses and other developments. Less available land and more people means that bears have to work harder to find food, shelter and a suitable home for the winter.

You probably know that a hollow tree, handy cave or dense thicket would appeal to a bear in search of a winter den. But did you know the cozy hideaway beneath your deck, the crawl space or storm cellar you forgot to seal up for the winter, that pile of tires or brush out back or the shed full of gardening tools and supplies can seem like the perfect place to turn in for the winter?

Bears are curious, resourceful and very adaptable. So when days grow shorter and food supplies dwindle they know it’s time to stop hunting for food around the clock and start hunting for a safe, snug place to spend the winter, they’re willing to explore all the available alternatives.

Keep reading for tips on how to keep bears from moving in for the winter. Click here to learn more about bear dens.

Some People-Places Make Great Bear Dens

By late fall, bears are all about conserving energy and keeping as many of those pounds they’ve been putting on as possible. No wonder they take advantage of people-provided spaces, places and features that offer move-in conditions.

It’s not unusual for a bear to den up and even give birth under decks, in crawl spaces, or under bushes and hedges. Equipment you’ve parked for the winter, stacks of lumber, building materials, and other debris can all offer attractive possibilities. Bears may make themselves at home in garages, storage sheds or vacation homes that are vacant over the winter.

An adult bear can easily fit through an average pet door. And even empty coolers hold odors and can attract bears. Store coolers out of sight.

To a bear, these areas can seem like the perfect winter home. They’re dark, snug and often come with at least one built-in wall. Bears don’t have collarbones, so even adult bears can fit through what seems like an impossibly small opening. The general guideline is that if a bear can get its head inside, the rest of the bear can follow. Many homes in bear country offer bears lots of possibilities. So, if you’d rather not have bears as houseguests, read on.

How to Keep Bears from Denning at Your Place

Walk around your home and property and think like a bear. Where would you den up for the winter?

Porches, decks and crawl spaces. Crawl spaces and underneath decks and porches can be very appealing…to a bear. But bears can unintentionally rip out wiring, pull down insulation and do a lot of damage while making themselves a nice winter “nest.” So make sure your crawl space is closed up tight for the winter, and securely block off any small openings that might attract a bear. As a bonus, you’ll also keep out other critters looking for winter homes, including raccoons and skunks.

securing your crawl spaceIf the space under your porch or deck is open or just has decorative lattice, consider installing an electric fence, or wood, brick or stone barriers. Remember, if bears can wrap their claws around something, they can generally pull it open.

Check out this video with Nevada bear biologist Heather Reich for an inside look at a bear den under a cabin as well as lots of tips and easy-to-follow instructions on how to bear-proof your crawl space.

Outbuildings. Check garages, storage sheds and outbuildings. Now is a good time to remove or safely store anything that might attract a bear, including bird seed, pet food and livestock feed.

Antifreeze smells sweet, but is highly poisonous to people, pets and wildlife, including bears. Please store your antifreeze securely.

Vacation Homes. Lock all ground floor and bear-accessible windows and doors. Bear-accessible means any windows, doors or sliding glass doors that bears could reach by climbing up a convenient tree, staircase or support post that leads to a second-floor deck. Installing an electric fence will provide extra protection.

Why Push Your Luck? Bears can easily operate lever-style door handles, but are stymied by round doorknobs. Extra bonus points: install doors to open out, not in.

camper damage by black bear

An RV parked outside for the winter can smell like a giant can full of food to a hungry bear. Remove all food, thoroughly clean, and consider protecting with an electric fence or unwelcome mat.

Campers and RVS can make attractive winter homes for bears; if you’ve left windows or doors open even a crack to air them out, bears can easily let themselves in. Thoroughly clean, paying special attention to vents. Remove all food and anything with an odor and avoid using fruit or vanilla-scented air fresheners. Bears don’t know they’re not good to eat. If your RV or camper is parked outside for the winter, consider protecting it with an electric fence, or unwelcome mats.

Nobody wants to discover a bear in the crawl space or under the porch come spring. So please pass this article along to the neighbors. And thanks for being BearWise. The more you know, the more you can do to keep people safe and bears wild.

Top Photo by Nevada Department of Wildlife

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