Colorado Parks and Wildlife received 4,282 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears in 2022, which was a 16% increase from 2021, but a 1.3% decrease from the previous 2 years.
In 2019, CPW launched a new bear reporting system to help wildlife managers track and quantify bear activity and conflicts across the state.
The data collected is used to see overall trends and identify sources of conflict on a localized, regional and statewide level. Since its implementation in April 2019, CPW has recorded 18,351 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears, nearly one-third of which are traced back to bears getting into trash.
Chaffee County saw 31 bear-related reports in 2022, with one bear relocated. In Summit County, 72 bears were reported, with one euthanized. Park had 51 reports, with no relocations or euthanizations.
Tyler Kersey, CPW’s district wildlife manager for Salida West, says a lot of factors contribute to an area’s bear statistics, from weather events and food sources to population.
“A multitude of factors … go into that. … This is going to vary depending on the year, too, but different types of weather events, food sources for the bears being closer to population centers and things of that nature,” he said. “It also has to do with where some major housing developments are. If you have a lot more subdivisions that are up in the hills, you have a stronger likelihood of getting bear incidences, whether that be sightings or anything like that.”
In Chaffee County, Kersey said, lower elevation areas are typically developed while higher elevation is more public land.
“Here in Chaffee County, we’re kind of unique,” Kersey said. “Those bears are kind of staying, for the most part of the summer, in that cooler country in those higher elevations. So we’re kind of unique in that aspect where the lower hotter parts of Chaffee County tend to be where we have our big population centers, where that higher cooler country, where bears just naturally like to be during the summer, are just public land.”
“We need help from local communities to develop strategies to secure garbage and other attractants across bear habitat,” said Kristin Cannon, deputy regional manager for CPW’s Northeast Region. “Ultimately, it will also require individuals to take some responsibility and follow proper guidelines on living appropriately with bears to protect them."
Bears attempting to access trash continues to be the leading cause of conflict. Other constant sources of conflict include birdfeeders, livestock, bears accessing open garages and other human-originated items that are left unsecured. These conflicts could all easily be reduced if the public takes some simple steps around their homes and properties to prevent bears from accessing them.
Drought conditions and other factors that may influence the availability of natural food crops for bears vary across the state, as does human behavior when it relates to human-bear interactions.
“It’s always natural to get more bear activity along the river, so the south fork of the Arkansas and the main stem of the Arkansas, just because that’s a good location where it’s a little bit cooler than everywhere else along those river corridors,” Kersey said of Chaffee County. “Usually that’s a good source or good area where the food source is decent. Most times, even if we have a drought, you still see some berries and stuff like that along the river.”
The river also provides a water source, making it a popular spot for all kinds of animals.
“Any animals, whether that be deer, elk, bears, foxes, any of that stuff, they’re going to use those waterways like highways because they can always get water and there’s always some decent amount of food along those rivers,” Kersey said. “So in turn, we usually see more bear activity kind of those places where there’s either a river stream running through it we just naturally see more bear activity.”
On the eastern side of the state, conflicts were relatively low despite a spring freeze that had CPW officials worried the wild berry and nut crop might be impacted. Fortunately, freezing temperatures were followed by a good amount of moisture, leading to plenty of natural forage for bears east of the Continental Divide. Compared to 2020 and 2021, CPW’s Southeast Region saw an 18% decrease in bear calls while the Northeast Region saw a 6% decrease.
Colorado’s West Slope, especially CPW’s Northwest Region, was less fortunate. The late freeze held in that side of the state, leading to a food failure in most areas with natural berry and acorn crops being almost nonexistent. Compared to 2020 and 2021, CPW’s Southwest Region saw a 3% decrease in bear reports, but the Northwest Region, where much of the region was in severe drought, saw an increase of 9%.
Report bear sightings and conflicts to CPW
One concern CPW is aware of from the public is a reluctance to report bear activity over a belief it will lead to the bear being put down. Data shows that of the 18,351 reports wildlife managers have received on bears in the last four years, only 2.3% led to euthanization.
There are a number of factors that may impact whether a bear is relocated or euthanized, but Kersey said human health and safety will always be the priority.
“That’s going to usually play the biggest role in how we determine what our actions are with that bear. Other factors would be if we’ve ever handled that bear in the past at all, or if it’s a reoccurring problem with the same bear,” he said. “So it’s going to be the totality of the circumstances that kind of play a role in that, as well as the location of where the bear is found. There’s a lot of lot that goes into that, but number one is always going to be human health and safety.”
When CPW is made aware, especially when conflicts first begin, wildlife officers can educate the community, make site visits to homes to help them secure attractants and can haze bears in an attempt to reinforce their natural fear of humans. In some circumstances, wildlife officers can attempt to relocate bears out of conflict areas to alleviate safety concerns or before that animal’s behavior escalates to a dangerous level which may require euthanization. In the last four years, CPW has relocated 272 bears from sites of conflict, but wildlife officers stress relocation is not a fix-all solution.
Wildlife managers estimate that Colorado has between 17,000 - 20,000 bears and the population is stable and growing. The black bear is the only bear species in the state, however these bruins can be brown, blond, cinnamon or black in color.
Become Bear Aware
Kersey urges residents to stay informed about the best ways to keep trash and homes secured and minimize attractants. By taking some simple precautions, human/wildlife conflicts can be reduced and bears can stay wild. Tips for bearproofing homes and businesses, bear safety and overall living with bears can be found at https://cpw.state.co.us/ and at https://livingwithbears.com
Bear-proofing your home:
- Keep garbage in a well-secured location. Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
- Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them free of food odors: ammonia is effective.
- Keep garage doors closed, Do not leave pet food or stock feed outside.
- Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.
- Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.
- Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, haze it by yelling at it, throwing things at it and making loud noises to scare it off.
- Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.
- Clean the grill after each use, and clean up thoroughly after cookouts.
- If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.
- Talk to your neighbors and kids about being Bear Aware.
Cars, traveling and campsites:
- Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.
- Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.
- Do not keep food in your vehicle; roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.
- When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle.
- Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the backcountry.
- When camping in the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite; don’t bring any food into your tent.
- Cook food well away from your tent; wash dishes thoroughly.
Protecting your chickens, bees and livestock:
- Keep chickens, bees and livestock in a fully covered enclosure, especially at night.
- Construct electric fencing when possible.
- Don’t store livestock feed outside.
- Keep enclosures clean to minimize animal odors.
- Hang rags soaked in ammonia or Pine-Sol around the enclosure as a scent deterrent.
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