DURANGO, Colo. — People spend thousands of dollars on home security systems to ward off would-be burglars, but as it turns out, it only takes a couple of tacks and some wood to do the same for curious bears.
This year, human-bear conflicts have reached a sort of fever pitch. Poor human habits, such as not securing trash and leaving doors and windows unlocked, has coupled with a bad natural-food year to make the situation dire for bears in southwest Colorado.
As a result, hungry bears have been reported both in Durango and in La Plata County rummaging through trash, getting into bird feeders and, at times, killing livestock to supplement their diet.
But this year, more so than in years past, bears are attempting to get into people's homes, sometimes successfully.
Bear Smart Durango's Bryan Peterson has noted the amount of bear break-ins this year. He's received five reports of bears in a home, eight reports of bears trying to enter a home and three reports of bears in a garage or attempting to enter one.
And that's just through reports made to Bear Smart's website, which excludes reports he's heard through email or phone calls.
However, Peterson said a recent situation was a breaking point.
He said a woman reported a bear had broken into her home twice: once when a door was left open and a second time when the bruin broke through a door and damaged the kitchen.
Peterson said the woman started to become afraid of sleeping in her home.
"And we didn't have anything to help her," he said. "It just became apparent that we needed to get something to people that were having home break-ins."
So, Peterson contacted Jim Sims, a local homebuilder, to see if he had any ideas. Sims, who has lived in Durango since 1977, got to thinking.
"I remembered when my daughter was a little kid, she stepped on a carpet tack strip," Sims said. "I saw how quickly that got her attention, and that stuck in my mind."
Sims went to Home Depot to pick up a couple of boxes of tack strips and was able to get Alpine Lumber to donate plywood.
Then, he immediately set about making what's known as an "unwelcome mat" for bears.
Unwelcome mats, usually placed at the base of doors or windows, are intended to cause instant pain when a bear steps on them, which works as a passive deterrent, Peterson said.
Peterson said mats are relatively inexpensive to build but must be made to specific guidelines so as not to injure the bear.
Sims, for example, is using three-eighths-inch-long tack strips, just enough to cause a jolt of pain.
Peterson said the mats are highly effective in deterring bears.
"It's a concept that came from boarding up cabins to keep bears from breaking in up in Alaska," he said. "It's a pain deterrent and teaches bears instead of us having to respond all the time."
Ryan Welch, founder and president of Bear Busters, a provider of bear-deterrent solutions based in Tahoe, California, said his company offers electric doormats that shock bears that step on them.
"They're extremely effective," he said.
Welch added that his company has developed prevention tactics targeting other ways bears seek to break into homes, such as electric fences and stoppers for sliding glass windows and doors.
Joe Lewandowski, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, didn't have exact numbers on the amount of bear break-ins, but he said there's been at least a dozen reports of bears either walking through an open door or residents finding footprints on screen windows and sliding glass doors.
Peterson hopes to have 20 unwelcome mats so that he can give half to CPW and keep the rest for Bear Smart to hand out. Sims has eight covered with tacks, and Peterson is hoping more people get involved.
And, he's always quick to remind residents that the best prevention methods include securing trash, removing bird feeders and locking all windows and doors to homes and vehicles.