Keeping Bears and People Safe
Human-bear conflicts in Colorado have reached unprecedented levels. In 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife euthanized 216 black bears across the state. Of those, 30 were victims in Colorado Springs. As of this July in our area, three have been killed by CPW.
It’s an uncessary tragedy.
What and who’s to blame? Two factors: People who don’t secure their trash and a shortage of natural food in the wild. The combination is lethal, and once bears are habituated to human food, it’s a death sentence.
Colorado Springs is in bear habitat. Although most encounters occur in areas west of I-25, they also happen throughout the city.
Making the decision to euthanize a bear is difficult for CPW officers.
“Guidelines on when to euthanize a bear are clearly set forth in the agency’s administrative directive,” says Frank McGee, CPW manager in Colorado Springs’ regional office. Essentially, conflict bears are placed in three categories.
The first is a depredating bear, one that is killing and eating livestock. If CPW traps a depredating bear, it is euthanized.
Second are dangerous bears, those that have shown to be a threat to human safety. That is, biting or scratching a person, entering a home or through other aggressive behavior.
Last are nuisance bears. These are mostly subadult bears or mothers with cubs, who have gotten into trash but haven’t demonstrated aggressive behavior. They get one free pass and are tagged and moved back to a wilderness area. “If a previously translocated bear returns and is handled a second time by CPW, policy requires that it’s euthanized,” McGee says.
The most tragic stories are those about people who intentionally feed bears or don’t report them for getting into trash, says McGee. “They’re concerned that CPW will euthanize the bear.” But by calling CPW the first time it gets into trash, “we could help teach that bear—and homeowners—a different lesson.”
Every year, CPW relocates adult and subadult bears from Colorado Springs into more suitable bear habitat, and while some of these bears eventually return, many never have another human encounter.
A bear can smell food five miles away. His nose is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s and seven times more powerful than a bloodhound’s. During summer and early fall, they have to pack in 20,000 calories a day to gain enough weight to survive winter hibernation without food or water. But if food sources are low, the smorgasbord available in trash cans is a magnet. And once they’ve sampled the trashy delicacies, they will come back for more and likely become more aggressive. This does not bode well for the bears.
Becoming a bear smart Community
After the loss of 30 bears last year, something had to be done. “It just seemed like bears were everywhere and in everyone’s conversation,” says Manitou Springs resident, Nancy Wilson. And there was the matter of trash, with can after can tipped over on the streets. “And we were tired of hearing about bears being euthanized.”
Enough was enough. Wilson formed a committee of representatives from city council, police and fire departments, Parks and Wildlife and volunteers, and it became the Manitou Springs Bear Smart Task Force. As a result, the City Council passed an ordinance effective January 1 of this year, mandating all residents to keep their trash indoors until collection day, or use certified bear-proof trash cans.
Enforcement is critical. For the first offense, a warning is issued. A second offense gets a $120 citation, and a third offense requires a mandatory court appearance and fine. As of July, Cy Cushenberry, code enforcement officer for Manitou Springs, has issued nine warnings and one citation since April 1.
The killing by CPW of a mother bear and her two cubs who entered a home in Cheyenne Canyon in November was the final straw for passionate animal advocates Jan McHugh-Smith, CEO of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), and Vickie Smith, fundraiser for HSPPR and co-chair of its $8.5 million capital campaign. “Jan and I cried when talking about it and decided something had to be done,” says Smith. Following meetings with city officials, CPW, waste disposal providers and volunteers, the Bear Smart Task Force was formed in January.
“Our mission is to reduce human/bear conflict by restricting access to food, trash, and bird feeders, foster a better understanding of black bears, and significantly reduce the number of bears euthanized in Colorado Springs,” says McHugh-Smith.
This fall, the Task Force plans to introduce a bear protection ordinance to City Council that will address this issue. Hopefully, it will pass and be enforced, and bears and humans can safely coexist.
Will it be effective? An ordinance requiring people to secure trash and other food sources from bears is the single most important step to reduce bear-human conflicts, says McGee. “We can’t change how bears behave, but if we can change how people behave we can learn to be better neighbors to bears.”
It’s time to be Bear Aware and very Bear Smart.
Bear Smart Tips
• Don’t feed the bears.
• Lock up all trash until the morning of pickup, or switch to a certified bear-proof trash container.
• Put bird feeders away at night.
• Don’t leave pet food outside.
• Clean outdoor grills.
• Remind neighbors to manage their trash.
For More Information
Colorado Springs Bear Smart Task Force: https://springsbeartaskforce.blogspot.com
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Administration: Black Bears www.scribd.com/document/363874640/Colorado-Parks-and-Wildlife-Administration