FRONT RANGE – Colorado’s bears have begun emerging from hibernation across the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, charged with perpetuating the wildlife resources of the state, reminds outdoor recreationists, city dwellers and rural homeowners to be responsible and take steps to minimize contact with bears, for the health and safety of both humans and bears.
“About 60 percent of our collared bears have already emerged from their dens, which is pretty normal for this time of year,” said Heather Johnson, a CPW mammal researcher, who studies bears in Colorado. “Most of the bears that are still denned are the sows with newborn cubs. They should emerge within the next few weeks.”
The black bear, Colorado’s only bear species, lives primarily west of I-25. They prefer forested or tall, shrubland habitat but may move through open landscapes as they disperse and enter adulthood.
Bears are omnivores and primarily eat vegetation such as grasses, forbs, berries, acorns, and seeds. They also eat insects or scavenge on carcasses, but can occasionally prey on newborn calves and fawns, beaver, marmots, deer, elk and even domestic livestock or agricultural products.
When a localized natural food failure occurs, black bears from the affected area become increasingly mobile and persistent in search of human food sources like trash, fruit trees, pet food, bird feeders, livestock and agricultural products.
As bears emerge from hibernation, CPW reminds the public to take precautions to reduce potential for negative interactions with bears.
“Bears that seek out human food resources are at a higher risk of mortality due to lethal removals by landowners or wildlife managers, vehicle collisions, electrocutions, and other factors. It’s best for both bears and people if the bears continue to forage on natural foods, and avoid human development,” Johnson said.
Other tools, employed by CPW when human safety and bear mortality concerns arise, include altering bear hunting licenses, implementing aversive conditioning techniques, increasing education and outreach activities, relocating nuisance bears and reducing the accessibility of human foods to bears.
The statewide bear population is difficult to estimate because it is costly to observe this solitary and elusive species. All inventory efforts in Colorado involve extrapolating information about known bear densities in small geographic areas and applying them to larger areas. But more recently scientific sampling methods and advances in genetic analysis from the late 1990’s have enabled wildlife managers to use DNA from “hair snag” samples to estimate bear populations. As a result, the current, conservative, statewide estimate is 17,000 to 20,000 bears.
Bears have an extremely keen sense of smell and excellent memories. Once they have learned about a reliable source of food, they will often return. Once this occurs, it requires significant diligence on the part of people to keep these food-conditioned bears from coming back and creating conflicts.
Tips for outdoor recreationists:
- Make noise while walking or hiking to prevent surprising a bear. Clap, sing or talk loudly.
- Travel in a group if possible.
- Pay attention to the surroundings and watch for bear signs, such as tracks or claw or bite marks on trees.
- Review CPW’s recommendation in an brochure at http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Education/LivingWithWildlife/CampingHikingInBearCountry.pdf
Tips to prevent human/bear conflicts for homeowners include
- Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure and only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
- Take down all bird feeders — birds don’t need to be fed during the summer. Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts.
- Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside–never provide food for any wildlife.
- Review CPW’s fact sheet at http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Education/LivingWithWildlife/BearproofingYourHome.pdf
- Conduct a home audit to be sure you are not attracting bears to your property.
Bears are constantly on the move. Recreationists, residents and visitors are reminded to contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife or call 303-866-3437 to file a report of injured or problem wildlife.
For more information about Living with Wildlife visit: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeBears1.aspx
Read CPW’s Human-Bear Conflict Report at http://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/Education/LivingWithWildlife/CPW-Human-Bear-Conflict-Report.pdf.
Learn more about CPW’s mammal research at http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchMammalsPubs.aspx.