Earth Notes: Bear Aware

Jul 5, 2017

Every summer as people head outdoors, headlines inevitably tell of encounters and conflicts between humans and bears.  Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Bear Aware program aims to educate people on coexisting with black bears, and helping keep the animals wild. The program now has more than 220 volunteers, and a website that offers many useful resources. 

Black bears in a den
Credit Colorado Parks & Wildlife

The berries and acorns that are the bears’ natural food come and go. In poor years bears will travel miles to find food—often putting them in close proximity to our homes and campsites. As wild foods become available again, most bears return to the forests—but some become addicted to unnatural sources.

Agency researcher Heather Johnson headed a recent study near Durango, Colo. During the six-year effort, she and crews attached GPS collars on 83 bears, and crawled into the animals' dens each winter to count newborn cubs. She found the bear population had declined at that point.

The project also provided more than a thousand bear-proof trash cans to residents, leading to a dramatic drop in human-bear conflicts.  

But the research also suggests larger forces are at work. With climate change, warmer temperatures bring bears out of dens earlier in spring, and they stay out later in the fall; drought reduces berries and acorns; and more land development is encroaching on bear habitat.

For more information, see http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeWildBears.aspx.