With another bear season upon us, I thought it would be great to mix things up a bit and hear from others in the community about sharing where we live with black bears (Ursus americanus).
Few people know bears and the complexities of human and bear conflict issues as well as local wildlife officials. Recently, I was fortunate to have Steve McClung, district wildlife manager for Area 15 of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, offer some perspective. Thank you, Steve.
Q: How much of your time is spent dealing with bear issues?
A: That really depends on the year. The single biggest variable is the availability of natural food. If we have a good natural food crop (acorns, berries, vegetation), bear issues tend to be manageable as they were the last two years. If we have a late frost, low rainfall or other impact to natural food production and bears can’t find natural food to eat, they will increasingly look to human sources like they did in 2012. That was a busy year for conflict calls.
Q: Does anything about bears still surprise you?
Q: Black bear populations and human-bear conflict are increasing in many states, including Colorado. Many residents feel that the bear population is the sole driver of increased conflict, while others feel that human foods and loss of habitat are significant factors. Your thoughts?
A: I can’t speak about other states, but all three variables play a role in conflict. Most human-bear conflicts are caused by humans through careless management of attractants and increased development in prime bear habitat.
Q: No one becomes a wildlife officer to put down bears. Can you describe that experience?
A: I’d rather not. Let’s just say it is not a good day.
Q: What role, if any, do local governments play in reducing conflict?
A: The first step local governments – cities and counties – can do is to develop enforceable regulations and ordinances addressing trash and other bear attractants. Once laws are on the books, education and enforcement are vital. Unfortunately, many folks need a reminder to be careful with attractants, especially those new to bear country and those who may have become complacent after a year or two of low conflict levels. Many people just need a reminder once the bears become active in the spring.
Q: What frustrates you most about human and bear conflict issues?
A: When, through human carelessness or intentional actions, a bear develops the bad habits that result in Colorado Parks and Wildlife having to put a bear down. Also, the misconception that relocating a bear is the silver bullet to solving human-bear conflicts.
Q: What key message would you like to pass along to residents on how they can help in reducing human-bear conflict?
A: That we all share this beautiful area with wildlife and that we must do our part to keep bears wild. That means that every spring, all residents who live in bear country, which includes town, remove attractants from their property. A little time in the spring and some vigilance throughout bear season can greatly reduce conflicts.
firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.