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Black Bears Find Easy Pickings in Greenhorn
A black bear strives to consume 20,000 calories a day or about 37 Big Macs. COURTESY: Idaho Fish and Game
Wednesday, June 19, 2024


A black bear sow with two cubs has been getting fat on the food scraps thrown away by the residents of Greenhorn Gulch south of Ketchum.

A local homeowner reported the uninvited diners to Idaho Fish and Game on Saturday, June 15, after bears hanging around his home triggered many security camera alerts. The sow and her two cubs weren’t as interested in socializing with the homeowner as they were in an unsecured garbage cart in the driveway.

Fish and Game officers investigated and found signs of the bears around the home with a large amount of residential garbage on the ground, some of which the bears had munched on.

A black bear sow and two cubs spent the evening licking their chops after finding food in an unsecured garbage cart outside a home in Greenhorn Gulch. COURTESY: Idaho Fish and Game

Fish and Game officials are concerned that the bears are quickly becoming food conditioned after gaining easy access to unsecured residential garbage. Once a bear associates a food reward with a residential garbage cart, it’s extremely difficult to reverse that behavior.

Officers provided safety information to nearby homes and asked homeowners to secure their garbage in their garages until the morning of pickup.

Every resident in the Wood River Valley should secure their garbage in a garage or locked shed to prevent black bears from becoming food-conditioned, said Terry Thompson.

“When bears are accessing residential garbage that means every resident needs to change their behavior to keep bears from becoming food conditioned,” said Mike McDonald, regional wildlife manager. “We urge all Wood River Valley residents to do their part by securing their garbage in a locked shed or garage. It is our priority to keep our residents and visitors safe and our wildlife wild.”

The bears weren’t very good dinner guests, as they left a mess for the homeowner to pick up. COURTESY: Idaho Fish and Game

Bears immediately begin to forage for food to replenish their fat reserves as they emerge from their winter hibernation in spring, said Thompson. They’re not in the market for Ozempic—they’re on a quest to eat between 15,000 and 20,000 calories a day.

In other words, their life’s mission is pretty much looking for food.

They find some nourishment in spring grasses. But they’re happy to try anything that will help replenish the body weight they’ve lost while hibernation. Male black bears usually lose 15 percent to 30 percent of their weight during hibernation, while sows with cubs can lose up to 40 percent.

They have a keen sense of smell –believed to be seven times bigger than a bloodhounds—so they can smell that leftover pizza homeowners dump in their garbage from miles away.

“Keeping residential garbage out of reach of a bear can significantly reduce the chances of a bear becoming food-conditioned,” said senior conservation officer Brandyn Hurd. “We all know the end result when a food-conditioned bear becomes a public safety issue.”

To keep Wood River Valley bears wild:

Use a bear-resistant garbage container when possible.

Keep all household garbage secured in a garage or other enclosed area.

Put your garbage cart curbside on the morning of pickup, NOT the night before.

Leftovers or discarded fish or meat bones give off a strong odor and should be stored in your freezer until the day of garbage pickup.

Keep attractants, like BBQ grills, birdseed and pet food stored where bears cannot access them.

Bird feeders should be taken down May through October since bears can gain a tremendous number of calories from birdseed. One pound of black oil sunflower seeds offers 2,500 calories; 32 ounces of hummingbird food, 3,200.

Put an electric fence wire around chicken coops and beehives.

Those who spot a bear in their neighborhood should haze the bear with loud yelling, clapping their hands or banging on pot and pans to let it know it’s not welcome. Otherwise, bears learn that taking daily walks around a house is acceptable and potentially rewarding if they find food.

Learn more at the Wood River Valley Wildlife Smart Communities website at

Questions? Contact the Magic Valley Regional Office of Idaho Fish and Game at 208-324-4359.

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