DOW will sell more licenses to hunt bears in Roaring Fork Valley
August 26, 2009
State wildlife officials will allow more black bear hunting in the Roaring Fork Valley this late summer and fall in an effort to ease the soaring number of conflicts with humans.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife increased the number of licenses it will sell to hunters for the bear season, which starts Sept. 2, according to agency spokesman Randy Hampton. The wildlife division sold 585 licenses in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys last year. That will increase by 45 licenses, or 7.5 percent, to 630 total available this year.
There were 39 black bears “harvested” by hunters in the two valleys last year, according to Hampton. Data on the wildlife division’s website indicates 15 of those bears were taken in game units in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said he supports increased bear hunting but doesn’t expect it to eliminate the problems in Aspen with bears breaking into locked houses to find food.
“Will it alleviate all the problems? Of course not,” Will said. “Will it ease them? Sure.”
Hunters are more likely to kill the bears that are in the backcountry, doing what bears do naturally, rather than killing the bears that are looking for handouts in town.
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“You can’t hunt in downtown Aspen,” Hampton said. “The success rates would be high, but you can’t hunt in Aspen.”
Nevertheless, Will noted that hunting in the backcountry makes habitat available to other bears. Hunting is a critical tool used for game management, such as keeping populations in tune with habitat, he said. In the case of black bears, maybe greater hunting and a smaller population means fewer bears coming to town in search of food.
“We’d rather have sport hunting than the DOW dealing with them, that’s for sure,” Will said.
Wildlife officers have killed four bears in Aspen and one in Basalt so far this year. The targeted bears have broken into homes and been in contact with humans too many times under the agency’s rules. Will said Monday was a “bad night” for human-bear conflicts in Aspen. Bears broke into a few more homes with locked doors and windows, he said. No additional bears were killed Monday, but one was trapped and relocated.
Some observers of the conflicts between bears and humans in Aspen have called for the resurrection of a spring bear hunt to cull the bear population. That’s out of the wildlife division’s hands. The spring hunt was abolished by a state constitutional amendment that was approved by Colorado voters in the early 1990s. It would require another vote to overturn that amendment.
The late summer and fall hunt wasn’t affected. The initial season with limited licenses for black bear hunting is Sept. 2-30; archery season is Sept. 2-27; and muzzle loading season is Sept. 12-20. In addition, there are four rifle seasons that coincide with the elk and deer season. The last of those four seasons is Nov. 11-15.
Bear licenses are $41 for residents of Colorado, $251 for non-residents.
In addition to the 630 black bear licenses that are available this year, Will can issue a limited number of discretionary licenses, particularly to target problem bears during the scheduled season. Will said if a person comes to him with a complaint about a bear on their property, he will urge them to find someone with a license to hunt the bear. If that isn’t possible, he will issue one of the discretionary licenses to allow a hunter to deal with the issue.
“It’s sort of the last option,” he said.
Roughly 50 of those special licenses are available. Again, the licenses don’t permit hunting where it is prohibited, like within the Aspen city limits.
Wildlife division officials will examine results of this year’s bear hunt to establish the number of licenses to be sold the following year. Will said wildlife managers don’t want the harvest to exceed 40 percent of the estimated number of females of breeding age. Topping that number can too greatly impact the bear population.
But given the severity of the conflicts in Aspen, he anticipates supporting another increase in the number of licenses sold next year.