DENVER – A measure that would allow hunting of black bears when they are most active stalled Monday as lawmakers worked on a compromise.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, may be resurrected as a study instead, after concerns were raised that the measure was premature without proper analysis.
Rural Coloradans complain that the bear population is increasing, causing loss of livestock and dangerous encounters with the public.
Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, is familiar with the subject. A sheep herder, Brown has lost dozens of his herd to bear attacks.
On one occasion, Brown slept outside with his herd in an effort to kill the bear who was costing him thousands of dollars in losses. He woke up to find the bear standing so close to him that he could feel its breath on his face.
With instinct kicking in, Brown punched the bear in the face and then went searching for his gun in the dark, so that he could fire one in the bear’s face. Brown won that night, but he worries about others.
“Parks and Wildlife should be managing these bear, and right now, the only thing they can do is when we have these problem bear is they just kill them and then haul them to the dump,” said Brown, who carried a similar bill that failed in 2011. “Why not let some hunters do it?”
The bill this year originally sought to allow an August hunt, while permitting Parks and Wildlife to authorize hunting from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. The legislation would have also clarified that the use of scents is not baiting.
Voters in 1992 prohibited the bear-hunting season from beginning before September. Voters also banned hunting with dogs or bait or killing bears with cubs.
Willett asked the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to delay the bill for more than 30 days while he works on putting a stakeholder group together to study the issue. The committee agreed.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of this as a bear-hunting bill. It’s not a bear-hunting bill,” Willett told the committee. “It’s a problem that has grown in the state to involve farmers and ranchers, people in their homes, hunters, the Division of Parks and Wildlife and the bears themselves.”
Wildlife advocates acknowledged the problem. But they said more research and stakeholder involvement should be accomplished before changing statute.
“If that process allows for wildlife advocates and equal numbers to other stakeholder groups, then we can come up with a set of recommendations that are perceived to be fair,” said Holly Tarry, vice president of Colorado Voters For Animals, a group committed to animal protection. “That makes the process of putting those recommendations into place far more likely.”