Colorado hopes bears hibernate soon to end encounters with humans
November 16, 2007
DENVER (AP) ” A berry-killing drought and late spring freeze pushed hungry Colorado bears into more confrontations with humans this year, and wildlife managers say a record 59 bears have been killed by wildlife officials as a result.
Officials say the toll could go higher. With temperatures as much as 10 degrees above average this fall, some bears are still hanging around towns in search of food instead of getting comfortable inside their winter dens.
That could lead to more confrontations and more cases of bears being put down.
The previous record number of nuisance bears killed in Colorado was 55, in 2002.
Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and other Western states are also experiencing more conflicts, with weather a factor in many cases. A bear killed an 11-year-old boy at a Utah campground in June.
One factor behind increased bear-human conflicts in the West is population growth, with more people moving into bear habitat. In Colorado, it’s common to see television news footage of bears climbing into backyard trees.
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Shortages of bears’ natural food make things worse. Without enough to eat, bears often scavenge in garbage containers and sometimes even enter houses in search of food.
Wildlife managers have been working with communities to avoid creating attractions for bears, especially open trash cans.
Colorado wildlife managers, like ski areas, farmers and water suppliers, are hoping the snow and cold will come soon and hit hard enough to send nuisance bears into hibernation.
“If we get a good blast of snow here, it would put an end to it for this year,” said Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife. Most bears have already started hibernation.
But less snow during winter also is causing bears to delay hibernation, increasing bear-human conflicts, said Tom Palmer of the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
“With the drought and these dry winters they’re still out foraging,” Palmer said. “If there’s food around they’re not going to den.”
More dry weather could mean more bear problems next year.
“If we have another rough spring, where berries and other foods are not available because of late freezes, we could have another bad year,” Baskfield said.
There has been some discussion in within the agency about culling the “the sloth of bears,” as a group is known, Baskfield said, but that discussion takes place every year.
In January, wildlife managers from around the state will meet to look at areas where the most confrontations occurred and review whether specific measures are needed in those areas.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission will decide in March what to do, and increasing the quota of fall hunting licenses for bears is one possibility.
“It’s upsetting news,” said Holly Tarry, state director of the Humane Society.
“Black bear populations manage themselves based on the resources that are available to them. Keeping them out of human areas is a human responsibility. We’re very disappointed that thinning would be an option,” she told the Aspen Times.
Tarry said educating people living in bear habitat about securing their garbage and stepped-up enforcement of laws requiring bear-proof trash bins could reduce the problem.
In Montana, wildlife officials said conflicts between bears, including grizzlies, and humans are increasing in fast-developing mountain communities such as the Flathead River Valley around Kalispell and West Yellowstone.
After complaints about black bears rose to almost a thousand a year in that area, the state hired a bear conflict specialist.
The Yellowstone region also has seen at least seven attacks on humans this year by grizzlies. No one has been killed, but some of the maulings caused serious injuries. In two cases, the attacking grizzlies were killed by hunters.
Notwithstanding widespread publicity over the maulings, state and park officials have said the number of attacks this year still fall within the normal range for grizzly run-ins. The federal government has decided the grizzly ” to many a symbol of the West ” is thriving and can be taken off the federal endangered species list.
Baskfield agreed that education and enforcement are important to reducing problems with bears, but added the weather is often the biggest determinant in human-bear run-ins.
“There have been rumblings in areas like Aspen that we need to bring the number of bears down,” Baskfield said. But he added there is fierce resistance from some. “We took some heat for putting down a bear that attacked a lady in a condo.”