Colorado Parks and Wildlife mulls new management plan to address increased bear-human conflicts
Eagle Valley and Roaring Fork area residents urged to weigh in on draft proposal
As Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials contemplate a new black bear management plan for the Eagle Valley and Roaring Fork areas, they know their biggest challenge isn’t dealing with bears.
The bigger problem is managing humans.
“Bear management is one of those topics that involves more than the biological side of things,” said parks and wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita during a Tuesday discussion with the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.
There’s an elephant-in-the-corner problem shaping bear management in Colorado’s High Country — there’s a stable or slightly declining number of bears in the area, but there is a exploding problem of bear/human interactions.
According to Yamashita, during the summer months, local wildlife management officers spend about two-thirds of their time responding to bear calls.
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“We would like to get away from that and be more proactive,” he noted.
Parks and wildlife has a whole page on its website urging people to “be bear aware” but it’s a message and a mission that runs up against an ever-growing problem.
Bear management is a community issue, Yamashita said. Bears are omnivore diners and skilled scavengers, he explained, which brings them into close contact with people — particularly with people’s trash.
“Honestly, as a state we need to reshape our perception of what bear management is,” Yamashita said. “Everybody needs to be on the same page.”
Parks and wildlife biologist Julie Mao noted that over the past decade, bear numbers have generally seen only small decreases or remained stable, even with the loss of bear habitat.
“In many ways, bear numbers can be seen as a success story,” she noted.
But while the actual animal numbers haven’t skyrocketed, the number of bear reports have. That dynamic is one of the issues impacting the new management plan.
“We want to continue to work with local communities to lessen human/bear conflicts,” Mao said.
Mao noted there is currently an estimated population of 1,040 bears in the Eagle Valley and Roaring Fork management areas.
Parks and wildlife has developed two alternatives for black bear management in the Eagle Valley/Roaring Fork area, detailed in a draft management plan. The first is to attempt to keep the current population at a stable level with modest harvest levels and license quotas. The second is to reduce the population with higher harvests and more licenses. At the point where there is a 50% decline in human/bear incidents or three consecutive years of recorded bear declines, the higher harvest strategy can be re-evaluated.
The second alternative is the agency’s preferred course of action, but the public will also have the opportunity to weigh in on the alternatives, both in person and in a survey. Wildlife managers stress that the process is heavily dependent on public preferences in addition to established wildlife management practices.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney predicted the public will have a lot to say about the issue. She noted that surveys conducted by Eagle County show local residents highly value the local wildlife population and support efforts to protect wildlife.
“We need to help them understand that this is how to do that,” she said, referring to the draft management plan. “But people really like to see the bears. They need to understand that seeing a bear isn’t in the animal’s best interest.”
Yamashita agreed. He noted that spotting a bear as it crosses through a remote mountain meadow can be an awe-inspiring experience. Spotting a bear as is climbs out of a dumpster behind a local restaurant isn’t so awesome, he noted.
“We can’t be blind to the fact that human/bear conflict is a significant part of bear management,” he said.
Parks and wildlife will host its public meeting for the Eagle Valley/Roaring Fork draft black bear management plan this Friday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center,
In addition to the public meeting, the public can provide written comments and respond to a short survey by going to TinyURL.com/b11survey2021. All survey responses and written comments must be submitted by Wednesday, Nov. 10.