Black Bear Attacks on the Rise in Colorado

Black Bear Attacks on the Rise in Colorado

“Here is another sad story when it comes to bears and bear hunting in Colorado.” This was how I began an article on May 14 when I wrote about a five-year-old girl who was mauled by a black bear in her yard near Grand Junction, Colo. Unfortunately, I can use that same opening sentence to refer to yet another black bear attack, this time on an entire family, on June 6 in Colorado’s Red Feather Lakes area. The family of four was camping on U.S. Forest Service property when the bear trampled the tent—with the family inside it—around 11 p.m. A man was taken to a hospital for treatment. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials believe the bear trampled the tent in search of food.

Reports of human-bear conflicts are increasingly common here in my home state. Multiple encounters have made headlines over the past year alone, particularly during spring and summer as our spending more time outdoors coincides with the fact bears are out of their dens in search of food. While black bears typically don’t attack humans unless they are cornered or are provoked, CPW warns people to take precautions when in bear country—advice that applies to any state where bears dwell.

CPW ’s Tips for Remaining “Bear Aware”
CPW provides a variety of brochures and info on its website to encourage the public to take precautions when camping, backpacking and hitting the trail. For example, as CPW spokesperson Travis Duncan warned following the Red Feather Lakes attack, “As Colorado's population grows, this kind of thing is becoming more common. It's important for folks to be aware to not feed wildlife—especially bears that can be habituated to finding human food sources like trash so it's important to put food away." Duncan said the CPW is placing traps and signs in the area to alert people about the aggressive bear activity and to take precautions to keep bears out of their cars and campsites.

CPW tips include: using bear boxes and bear-resistant coolers to stow food and trash; keeping food out of sight in a locked car; and keeping your tent free of food. The lure of an easy meal can diminish a bear’s wariness. Every year, bears that become too comfortable around humans must be destroyed.

CPW also advises never approaching bears or offering food. If a bear approaches, it could be a food-conditioned bear looking for a handout. Try to chase it away from camp. Keep children between adults. Yell, toss small stones in the direction of (not directly at) the bear, bang pots and pans, or blow your car horn or whistle. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Never run or climb a tree. CPW notes that bear spray is effective at distances of 40 yards. According to CPW, the highly-concentrated and irritating pepper spray has proven more effective than firearms at deterring bears, but it’s no substitute for taking common-sense precautions. If you are attacked, don’t play dead. Fight back with anything available, including your bare hands.

Other common-sense safety tips include remaining alert, particularly at dawn and dusk when visibility is limited or you are walking by a noisy stream. A firm clap or quick shout warns bears that humans are in the area. Because bears forage as much as 20 hours a day, avoid trails that go through berry patches, oak brush and other natural food sources for bears. If you have a dog, keep it leashed so it doesn’t get injured or return to camp with an irritated bear on its heels.

Following is a sampling of CPW brochures and videos with advice to those who plan to venture in bear country or live amongst bears.
• Camping & Hiking in Bear Country
• Backcountry Camping in Black Bear Country (including suggestions for camp site selection to avoid bear encounters)
• Living with Bears
• Bear-Proofing Your Home
• Bear-Proofing Your Trash
• What to Do if You See a Bear” Video

Colorado’s Underlying Problem: Banning the Spring Bear Season
With the state’s black bear population thriving at 20,000, bears, like any predator or prey species, must be kept in check with area carrying capacity. But In 1992, Colorado lost its spring black-bear hunting season. Anti-hunting extremists led by groups like the Humane Society of the United States launched a campaign packed with lies and emotional pleas and got the issue on the ballot so the public could vote to end it. They claimed that lactating sows were being killed during the spring hunting season and their cubs were starving to death. However, only one lactating sow accidentally was killed by a hunter the previous spring as CPW explained more lactating sows actually were killed on the highway that year. Though state wildlife biologists provided science-based evidence showing that hunting was a common-sense bear-management tool, the ballot measure passed. Wildlife-management authority was seized from state biologists. So while hunting is a common-sense wildlife management tool, it cannot help keep wildlife populations in check if it is banned.

So instead of having hunters help to manage black bear populations during a spring bear hunting season, Colorado pays government trappers and its own CPW staff to kill problem bears. The irony: Bears are still killed—just not by hunters—and the state pays the bill.  Isn’t it time for CPW to reexamine the option of a spring black bear season? It would ensure bear populations stay within carrying capacity while the state benefitted from hunters’ license fees to continue to cover the expenses of hunter-backed wildlife and habitat conservation programs.

CPW's Fast Facts
• Black is a species, not a color. In Colorado, numerous bears are blonde, cinnamon or brown.
• A bear can smell food five miles away and have a nose 100 times more sensitive than ours.
• During late summer and early fall, bears need 20,000 calories a day to gain enough fat to survive winter hibernation.