Updated: July 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm
Sybil Knighten was lying in bed Saturday night when she heard a noise outside the century-old home where she lives in Manitou Springs.
It was a smashing sound she recognized as a bear rustling through the trash.
"I listened to the crashing and banging and knew he was out there," Sybil said of the bear.
She figured her neighbor had left her trash in bins along the street, creating a bear smorgasbord.
Except that this time, the bear wasn't getting into her neighbor's trash.
The bear was feasting on Sybil's trash.
This was a problem because Sybil doesn't leave her trash out. Sybil keeps her trash stored in a locked shed.
"The bear ripped down a sheet of plywood we had nailed up and tore out two big boards," Sybil said as she showed me photos. "He broke them in two. Then he got inside and was tearing our garage up."
Sybil wasn't telling me to complain about the bear, or to get it hunted and trapped by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.
Like me, Sybil enjoys having bears around, even if they get into the trash once in a while and make a mess.
"We had trash scattered all over the place," she said.
She doesn't mind having to clean up the presents the bear left for her, either.
"We had a big pile of bear poop and it was full of plastic bags," Sybil said.
She doesn't mind even though she has to sleep with the windows closed out of fear a bear might enter the house in search of food.
Even if a bear climbs up and swats down a hummingbird feeder hung high on the house, as her Saturday night visitor did.
"He's just hungry and wants something to eat," she said. "We're in their territory, after all."
Sybil's experience is a good reminder, officials say, that bears are beginning to pack on the pounds as they begin their preparations for the coming winter's slumber.
And it illustrates the need to secure garbage in air-tight, bear-proof cans or bins.
"We see a surge in this kind of activity in the spring," said Abbie Walls, spokeswoman for Parks and Wildlife, as bears awaken from their winter sleep. "Then things quiet down until the end of July and early August when bears start getting into trouble again."
Typically, black bears eat fruits, berries, nuts, roots and grasses. They'll also eat insects and even small animals that they stumble upon. They are omnivores and opportunists and will turn to trash or anything that will fill their bellies.
Still, I was surprised a bear would tear a door apart to get to a bag of trash.
I wondered what Sybil might have thrown away that so excited a bear to rip 2-by-6 boards apart.
"We had melons in there," she said. "Cantaloupes. And we had some chicken. And canned dog food. If our dog doesn't eat his food, we'll dump it in the trash."
Sounded like she was reading from every bear's list of favorites. (Just below "pic-a-nic" baskets). Wildlife officials routinely warn folks in bear country (that would be us) to secure their garbage, take down their bird feeders and hummingbird feeders at night, lock up their pet food and force bears to stick to their natural menu.
Seems they have a real hankering for birdseed.
And especially dog food.
"Bears have really sensitive noses and they can smell food 5 miles away," Walls said. "They can certainly smell trash cans full of delectables on the other side of that door."
Raiding trash cans is one thing. When a bear starts channeling its inner Hulk and starts busting down doors, it may have crossed a line.
"That behavior definitely is concerning," Walls said. "This bear may have come to identify humans as a food source. And bears are very powerful animals. Bears can get in houses. They can easily pop out a screen and find their way inside."
There's not much difference between the door to a shed and to a house.
"When they start breaking into homes or cars, it can lead to dangerous behavior," Walls said.
Typically, house-hunting bears get identified as nuisance bears and are subject to being tagged and possibly relocated to a less-urban environment.
And if a nuisance bear is caught a second time, the bear may be euthanized, Walls said.
But Sybil doesn't want wildlife officers poking around their place. She's content to repair the door and live and let live.
"They were here first," she said. "He has never come into the house or banged on the windows or tried to get in the door. We're the intruders."
For now, anyway. And I hope it stays that way.
Follow these tips to help keep bears out of trouble:
• Keep garbage in an enclosed location and put out garbage only on the morning of pickup.
• Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them odor-free.
• If you don’t have secure storage, put items that might become smelly into the freezer until trash day.
• Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.
• Bird feeders should be brought in at this time of year.
• Allow grills to burn for a couple of minutes after cooking to burn off grease and to eliminate odors. Clean the grill after each use.
• Always close garage doors.
• Do not keep food in your car and lock the doors.