Contrasting views on bear problem causes

Courtesy of Donald Bruning

A bear feeds from a bird feeder north of Durango in 2013.

In managing wildlife populations, state wildlife agencies face various challenges.

For example, ranchers with elk eating their cattle’s hay may feel there are too many elk, while elk hunters may complain about inadequate hunting opportunities. Wildlife managers have to consider biological (available habitat can only support so many animals) and societal (the number of animals people will tolerate) limits.

Black bear management provides the same challenges, none more so than societal limits.

Clearly, residents have formed two distinct views about the bear population, and what role it plays in human and bear issues. One is that human-bear conflict is simply the result of the bear population, and the other is that various factors, including the actions of people, contribute to human-bear conflict.

Black bears are doing well in most places they exist, and using hunting to manage their numbers is crucial to people’s tolerance of bears and our ability to coexist with them. However, the notion that hunters taking more bears will reduce conflicts contains an obvious flaw: Hunting reduces the population as a whole, yet fails in targeting “nuisance” individual bears breaking into vehicles, killing chickens, etc. Using hunting alone to reduce human-bear conflict is like pulling a random card from a deck and hoping it’s the ace of spades.

Numerous wildlife agencies in other states have, in fact, examined what impact reducing the bear population had on human-bear conflict levels and found that increased hunter harvests had some, little or no effect. In many cases, as hunter kills increased, so did the amount of conflict.

The bear population is, without doubt, a factor in human-bear conflict – as is the human population, development, weather and natural-food conditions, and the availability of human foods. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has cited human foods as the primary cause of human-bear conflict, and other state wildlife agencies say much the same.

The notion that killing more bears is the only tool available in reducing conflicts is overly simplified – and a cop out.

Focusing solely on the bear population removes any personal and community responsibility. As much as some of us don’t want to hear it, a large part of this does come down to us. Be a good neighbor. Remove the food and you remove the bear. Some efforts involve cost, others are quite simple – and common sense to those not wanting to create more “nuisance” bears.

durango colorado

As a reminder that bears are out of hibernation, Bear Smart Durango will host its third annual Spring Bear Wake-Up Social, a fun and educational community event to let residents know about how to prevent human-bear conflict.

The social will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Durango Discovery Museum and will feature kids’ activities, a puppet show, a Bear Dance demonstration, live music, food, wine and beer, fruit-gleaning information and electric-fence, bear-spray and bear-resistant containers examples.

bp@frontier.net. Bryan Peterson is director of Bear Smart Durango, formed in 2003 to educate residents about coexisting with bears and reducing the amount of human food available to bears. Visit www.bearsmartdurango.org or follow on Facebook.

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