Since emerging from their dens, bears in the Wood River Valley have already been finding easy meals in trash cans—threatening not only public safety but their own lives, the Department of Fish and Game reports.

Residents in East Fork and the Adams Gulch area north Ketchum have witnessed bears roaming their neighborhoods and eating from trash cans, Regional Communications Manager Terry Thompson said. Bear sightings have also been reported in Cold Springs and Gimlet subdivisions, south of Ketchum.

The scent of birdseed, hummingbird nectar and pet food have all been powerful attractants, Thompson said, and the same could go for honey-producing bee hives, fruit trees and chicken coops. But household garbage has been by far the strongest bait.

“It’s really interesting to see the potential calorie count that bears can get from human food, which is why they tend to seek it out,” Thompson said. “They are almost singly focused on eating and building body fat to take them through the next winter.”

At least six reports in the valley have been filed with Fish and Game. What’s unusual about this kind of bear activity is that it usually begins in mid-July, according to Senior Conservation Officer Brandyn Hurd.

“Our low snowpack and very dry spring conditions seem to have brought bears into neighborhoods much earlier than we would typically see,” Hurd said in statement. “These bears, using their incredible sense of smell, are attracted to area neighborhoods because some residents are leaving their garbage cans unsecured.”

The department is urging residents to be proactive about their garbage—keeping trash in a secure location, like a garage or shed, until pick-up day, and never leaving garbage cans on the curbside or outside of the garage before pick-up.

Even business garbage containers left unsecured have caused bears in the valley to become food-habituated, local Fish and Game officers have noticed.

“We’ve all heard the saying ‘a fed bear is a dead bear,’ which is an unfortunate reality,” the Magic Valley office stated.

If a bear becomes accustomed to finding easy food rewards around homes or businesses, the animal almost certainly faces a grim prognosis.

“A bear that has developed a repeated habit of searching out and acquiring food from human sources is a threat to public safety and will be trapped or darted with an anesthetizing drug, then euthanized,” the office stated.

Relocating a food-habituated bear to another community or campground may just transfer, not solve, the problem.

“It’s up to everyone to keep our communities safe while keeping bears, and all wildlife, wild,” the office said.

For more tips on how to keep bears from getting into your household or business garbage, contact the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359.

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