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More hunting licenses could help bear problem

Dear Editor:

As the town of Aspen grows, the conflicts between residents and bears are following suit. In the summer of 2009, more than 460 encounters between black bears and people occurred, compared to 131 in 2005.

To address this issue, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is proposing to increase the number of black bear hunting licenses to 1,100, but this proposal has been met with opposition from natural resource advocacy groups.

Humans and bears must find ways to coexist, because both are permanent parts of the community. Humans are recent residents compared with bears, meaning that we are the ones who are encroaching.

Residents are perpetuating the problem by providing a food source for the bears. Therefore, it is important to continue introducing residents of Aspen and other high-country communities to bear-prevention techniques. Actions such as using bear-proof garbage cans and securing food items inside the house are helpful in preventing human-bear conflicts. Taking away the source of the conflicts will decrease the number of encounters, and public education is necessary to facilitate such preventative actions.

Proactive measures, however, will not be enough to fix this problem. Since many of the bears have already found a food source within town, they are likely to return in search of food. This is where the Division of Wildlife’s plan comes in to play. According to the division’s two-strike rule, a bear that repeatedly comes in contact with humans is killed. Last year alone, 20 bears were killed due to conflicts with humans. Wildlife managers are killing these bears because of their interest in human food sources.

In addition to public education and proactive measures to deter bears from encountering people, an increase in bear hunting licenses could prevent some conflicts and help control the bears in town. This potential increase in hunting may help to compensate for the killing that would otherwise be mandated by the two-strike rule. The increase in hunting licenses may also bring more revenue to the Division of Wildlife and to town, resulting in economic and social benefits from the proposal.

Increasing the number of licenses for bears does not necessarily mean that there will be an increase in the number of bears killed. Just because someone has a permit to kill a bear does not automatically mean that they will kill a bear – success of hunting efforts depends on more than just the license to hunt. As Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton says, “1,100 licenses does not equal 1,100 bears.”

Relying solely on preventative measures for controlling bears in Aspen and nearby towns is not sufficient for reducing the number of human-bear conflicts. Although the idea seems contradictory to conservation values, increasing the amount of bear hunting licenses, in addition to the proactive measures already in place, may be the best current option for reducing human-bear conflicts in the Colorado high country.

Chelsea Weiskerger

Fort Collins


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