In response to the rising incidence of local human-bear conflicts, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is pursuing an updated management plan for populations in the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys. The public has until Nov. 10 to weigh in on two proposed alternatives.
The first maintains the current level of black bear hunting opportunity, while the second seeks to actively reduce the local population of black bears by issuing more hunting licenses until the frequency of conflicts has dropped by 50%. Both alternatives make clear that a reduction in conflicts will also depend on “the availability of human-source foods and the frequency of natural food failures.”
Black bear population B-11 is currently “number one for conflicts in the state,” announced CPW at a public meeting in Glenwood Springs on Oct. 22. The population is estimated at roughly 1,040 bears, marginally decreasing in the past 10 years.
Acknowledging that we live in “bear country,” said Darren Chacron, CPW assistant area wildlife manager for Area 8 (Glenwood Springs), “I’d like to see officers not have to deal with so many calls all of the time.”
In “eight of the last 15 years,” states the draft management plan document, “B-11 has had unprecedentedly high human-bear conflicts, which have exceeded CPW field staff’s time and resources to reasonably handle.”
According to Area 8 staff reports cited in the same document, upwards of 900 bear complaints have occurred during poor natural food years, compared with 300 or fewer in good natural food years.
The plan focuses on the “bear side” of this conflict equation, with the stated priorities of managing conflicts, quality hunting experiences and sustainable bear populations. Since 2010, CPW has maintained the objective of harvesting 80 bears annually, witnessing around 110 total bear mortalities each year. A population reduction strategy would seek to increase the number of harvested bears to between 122 and 174, according to the draft plan, with total annual mortalities expected to double.
“Bear populations today are a conservation success story,” said CPW Wildlife Biologist Julie Mao at the Friday evening public meeting, stating that bear populations are higher now than in the past century. Unfortunately, she continued, “bears are now above their socio-political carrying capacity, with conflicts deriving from their scavenger attitudes.”
“I understand the CPW side, that they’re short-staffed and don’t have the man-power and resources,” Daniela Kohl, founder of the Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition, told The Sopris Sun. Still, Kohl would sooner see residents take responsibility. “It’s imperative we do something as a community.” Kohl’s initiatives to educate and resource people to better secure their trash were praised at the public meeting.
“Teaching habit modification to bears takes years,” she stated, while trash regulations vary drastically from town to city to unincorporated county lands throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Kohl opined that Snowmass Village has done “the best job” by taking a strict enforcement approach.
In CPW’s “preferred strategy,” a 50% decline in bear hunter satisfaction after three consecutive years of a declining population would prompt a re-evaluation. At the same time, conflicts (attacks, aggressive behavior and property damage) “should be less than 300 per year in the three most recent poor natural food years,” a 50% reduction in conflict reports from the current three poor food years’ average.
Kwiyag’ atÜ — Ute word for “bear” — “is our brother,” said Ute storykeeper Larry Cesspooch in conversation with The Sopris Sun. Cesspooch was raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Reservation located in Northeastern Utah. His ancestors “used to follow Bear out of hibernation,” learning medicines and other wild secrets by observing the species.
“You don’t go kill your brother,” said Cesspooach. “Bear to the Ute people is very sacred. We don’t eat their meat or kill them.”
“The reason why those people are after bears,” Cesspoch continued, “is they didn’t take care of their trash, and bears told on them. They would rather kill the bear than take care of their trash.”
In the state of Colorado, prior to 1935, black bears were not considered a game animal and could legally be shot on sight. From 1964 to 1986, a spring hunt was established with unlimited licenses. Spring hunts were banned by a state ballot amendment in 1992 in response to orphaned cubs.
Nonetheless, Kohl said that hunters have told her there was more incentive to eat the meat harvested from a spring hunt, whereas fall meat is not as appealing, especially if a bear has been feeding on trash.
The report concludes: “Active and consistent involvement by residents and businesses in the communities, trash companies, HOAs, local governments and federal land management agencies to reduce and ideally eliminate the availability of human food sources for bears is needed to truly resolve these bear management issues.”
The draft plan is available for review at: tinyurl.com/b11draftplan2021
The survey is at: https://tinyurl.com/B11survey2021
Written comments can also be submitted to: Julie Mao, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 0088 Wildlife Way, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
All survey responses and written comments must be received by Nov. 10.