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Black Bear Management In Estes Park

From Rick Spowart, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Manager

Just as April showers bring May flowers, the onset of spring brings another natural phenomenon as black bears awaken from winter hibernation and start to show up in and around the Estes Valley. In most cases seeing a bear is an exciting and memorable experience, however over familiarity of bears with human habitations and all their attractants can be dangerous for people and most especially black bears.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is charged with managing the state’s very diverse wildlife populations for the enjoyment of the people. To accomplish this for black bears we must work with communities and citizens to balance the needs of bears and people that enjoy seeing them, while minimizing potential risk to human property and most importantly protecting human safety. The goal is for people and bears to safely coexist whenever possible. However to control potential risk for bears and humans when bears become a chronic nuisance, a problem or a potential risk to human safety CPW uses a continuum of management options. Education for the community and individual citizens experiencing bear problems is the cornerstone of the process. Bear sitting and hazing may be used when appropriate, relocation may be considered and the use of bear deterrents sometimes provides an effective answer. However bear euthanasia must be considered and used as a last resort for bears that have become so human habituated and bold that they are breaking into residences. It is heartbreaking when a bear is killed under these circumstances, but it is sometimes absolutely necessary to do it.

When human/bear conflicts do occur, all too often the person involved feels the best solution is to relocate the bear. For several reasons, this is usually a poor option. Bears are territorial and will do their best to return to their home territory, often travelling many miles to do so. Being territorial, relocation often leads to social strife. There are few vacant territories in Colorado to relocate bears to, especially ones with few people where human/bear conflicts won’t occur with a relocated habituated bear if it should stay. All relocated bears are ear tagged as well as pit tagged and if they continue to cause conflicts, they are required to be euthanized. In addition, relocation is costly and time consuming, pulling wildlife officers away from district duties including other bear calls.

The best solution in managing bears is to avoid conflicts and decrease opportunity for bears to become humanized through proper management of trash and other bear attractants. Estes Park residents and visitors need to take away bear attractants and make bears unwelcome when they come around residences and businesses. The usual bear attractants are garbage and bird feeders. Bear resistant garbage containers are a must in Estes Park. Bird feeders need to be located out of a bears reach and should be brought in nightly. Seed feeders are most beneficial to birds during winter when food supplies are limited and bears are hibernating, so there is little chance of conflict. Seed feeders can also be detrimental to bird populations because of the potential of the spread of disease. Attracting hummingbirds with tubular flowers is a natural option to sugar water feeders and will not attract bears. Other attractants include pet or livestock food left outside and small livestock or poultry. Electric fencing will protect these animals from bears as well as other predators, and livestock feed should be stored in bear resistant containers.

Bears will enter vehicles to gain access to food left inside or if they smell attractive because of fast food packaging or air fresheners. Often bears can open a door handle or break a window to gain access and can cause considerable damage once inside or attempting to gain access. Therefore the goal should be to make certain all food, food wrappers, coffee cups and other potential bear attractors are removed immediately from the vehicle when it is parked and left unattended.

Often bears will enter a residence through a door or window which is left open, especially when the occupants have left or are sleeping. Closing windows when they do not need to be opened and motion sensor lights help to prevent entry. Lever type door knobs are easily opened by bears and some mountain communities require round door knobs to help prevent bear entries.

Most human/bear conflicts occur in late summer and fall when bears are most actively feeding before hibernation. However habituation of bears to human attractants is a process that begins in spring as soon as bears leave the den and begin searching for food. Ultimately, the acts of individual citizens, through careful management of homes and business in a manner that absolutely minimizes availability of bear attractants, is the primary determinate in the long-term survival of individual black bears. So now is the time to get ready, prevent conflicts and commit to coexist. A bear’s life may very well depend on what you do. Additional information on “living in bear country” is available at or any Colorado Parks and Wildlife office.


© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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