Colorado sees slight drop in bear reports in “unfortunately normal” year
Eagle County sees increase in reports, with 120 of 329 linked to bears accessing trash, bird feeders and pet food
Colorado Parks and Wildlife saw a statewide drop in black bear reports in 2020, but one-third of the 4,943 reports it did receive involved bears accessing trash people left out or failed to secure.
While reports declined 23.5% in the northwest region of the state, they increased in Eagle County, where wildlife officials had to euthanize four bears.
In a news release announcing the report numbers, which were down from 5,369 reports in 2019, Matt Yamashita, the wildlife manager who supervises the Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs areas for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said he would “unfortunately” classify 2020 as a fairly normal year for bear activity in the state.
“‘Unfortunate’ is in reference to the still substantial number of conflict bear calls across the state,” Yamashita said. “Compared to 2019 statistics it appears that human-bear conflict numbers have decreased and the situation is improving. However, wildlife managers are hesitant to draw conclusions from a comparison between two years. As with many aspects of wildlife management, managers look to identify trends in data over several years to ensure that change is persistent and meaningful.”
Of the bear reports — which include everything from bear sightings to property damage, home entries and attacks — there were 1,661 documented bears accessing trash that people failed to properly secure or left out.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said it euthanized 120 bears and relocated 89 bears in 2020. Those are the highest counts since 2015, except for 2017, when 216 bears were euthanized and 109 were relocated.
The agency also documented 362 reports of bears breaking into homes, cabins or garages in 2020. Bears breaking into homes is the leading cause of bears needing to be euthanized, the agency said.
Access to trash or bird feeders is typically a bear’s first connection associating people and homes with food. And that connection, once made, can lead to repeated and increasingly dangerous interactions between bears and people.
“If residents want to take action to keep Colorado’s bears safe, securing their trash and not having a bird feeder out from March until after Thanksgiving is the most important step that should be made,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife said. “They should also ask their neighbors to do the same, because it takes a community-wide effort to remove attractants and reduce bear conflicts.”
Eagle County saw 329 bear reports in 2020, a significant increase from 112 reports in 2019. Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton cautioned there are likely other factors involved in that total as the state transitioned to a new bear report data tracking system and incorporated reports made to local governments.
One thing the agency did notice in Eagle County, Hampton said, was an increase in bear reports from lower-elevation areas, including about 25 in the town of Eagle and three in Gypsum. One of the bear reports in Gypsum involved a sow and two cubs trying to enter a home through a kitchen window left open.
Four bears in Eagle County were euthanized in 2020, up from three the year before.
One bear had to be euthanized after it was struck by a vehicle on Interstate 70 and seriously injured. Another bear, a sow with two cubs, was euthanized after it attacked an Edwards man when he went outside to retrieve a dog. The man received an injury to his forearm, and state wildlife officials took possession of the cubs to rehabilitate and release them.
A bear that wildlife officials repeatedly tried to haze over two years in Vail was finally euthanized after it bluff charged people, broke into cars and several garages, and entered a home through a window, Hampton said. Another bear was euthanized after several failed hazing attempts, with repeated livestock incidents and the bear charging someone at a property south of Edwards.
Only one Eagle County bear was relocated in 2020, after it got onto the Eagle County Regional Airport property, Hampton said.
While some people may hesitate to call Colorado Parks and Wildlife to report problematic bear behavior, fearing the bear will be euthanized, the agency said it encourages people to report problems as early as possible so they can be dealt with effectively and in a non-lethal manner before more dangerous behaviors develop.
At least 120 of the 329 bear reports in Eagle County last year involved bears accessing bird feeders, trash or pet food — several of the hundreds of attractants that can create problems for bears when people leave them out.
“I think everybody focuses on the bears we put down. What we really try to explain, is this is 329 bear calls, and the vast majority of the effort is not to show up and kill the bear, but to show up when problems originate and educate people,” Hampton said. “In 324 of these incidents, we provided some form of information or education. In five of them we took action where we put hands on a bear,” Hampton said. “We really have to count on the communities and the people within them to do the right thing by the wildlife that they share a habitat with.”
To learn more about responsibly living in or visiting bear country, visit cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeWildBears.aspx.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.