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When we heard that the movie Cocaine Bear, in which a massive black bear ingests an almost equally massive amount of cocaine, was based on a true story, we thought: Wow, all those ingredients could definitely be found at a Colorado ski resort. Turns out, the actual ursine Scarface lived in Georgia in the 1980s.
But just because the poster child of rebellious bears hails from the South, that doesn’t exonerate Colorado’s bruins. In 2020, a bear in Cotopaxi snuck into a local business’ freezer, making off with edibles and (in an adept display of foresight) French fries. In Salida last year, an opportunistic mama with two cubs stole a backpack that contained shampoo and marijuana, although there was no indication that she partook of either.
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Those are the only two documented incidents of bears becoming involved in the drug trade, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. They have cracked open so many beers, however, that many law enforcement officials in the state now believe empty cans are just as alluring for bruins as picnic baskets would be.
But here’s a hot take: Really, bears aren’t the guilty parties. Joey Livingston, a spokesperson for CPW, says that bear-human interactions have been on the rise over the past few decades: Colorado’s population (of humans, that is) has exploded, with many of the newcomers hailing from states that don’t have large ursine presences. Whether at home or at camp, the transplants often don’t understand the importance of stowing their garbage and smellables, which causes some bears become addicted—not to blow, but to high-calorie human food. “Some bears will sleep six days then eat on trash days,” Livingston adds, of the conditioned mammals.
The Vail Police Department kept a tally of bear activity calls in 2020 and 2021—along with running commentary from a staffer named Brian Gadberry. (To wit: When a bear was spotted pooping between houses—and not in the woods—Gadberry wrote, “Seems even bears need a change of scenery now and then.”) Both years, the majority of calls stemmed from bears loitering and digging through trash, leading Gadberry to drop the jokes on at least one occasion: “Bear attracted to trash left out overnight, locals given a warning. It’s our responsibility to keep our wildlife safe, do better!”
That’s because while feeding hungry bears might seem like the altruistic (or at least entertaining) thing to do, if the animals become too habituated and begin entering structures—or your tent—to look for a meal, CPW is forced to euthanize them. Last year, CPW killed 94 bears (humanely), up from 66 in 2021. So even though they were drug-free, those bruins ultimately shared the same fate as the original cocaine bear, who died of an overdose.
To keep Colorado bears safe, Livingston recommends securing your trash, as well as things like bird seed, which is high in fat and, thus, a favorite ursine snack. Store food scraps in your freezer till trash day, and keep your grill clean—the grease makes for a gooey high-calorie treat. If bears do come around your abode, don’t be afraid to scare them away using an air horn or a bear rattle: a soda can with pebbles inside that makes for an unfamiliar—and annoying—racket to our ursine pals.
And if you do plan on bringing some powder of your own to Colorado’s mountains? “That’s a federally controlled substance,” Livingston points out. In other words, the police are likely to take the bears’ side.