A black bear does his best to get dinner out of a trash can.
While officials at Colorado Parks and Wildlife are considering 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 dealing with people.
“Bear management is one of those topics that goes beyond the biological side of things,” said Matt Yamashita, wildlife manager for parks and wildlife, during a discussion Tuesday with the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.
There’s an elephant-in-the-corner problem that shapes bear management in Colorado’s High Country – there’s a stable or slightly declining number of bears in the area, but there’s an exploding problem with bear-human interaction.
Local wildlife management officials spend about two-thirds of their time responding to bear calls during the summer months, according to Yamashita.
“We want to get away from that and be more proactive,” he said.
Parks and Wildlife has an entire page on their website urging people to “be bear conscious,” but it is a message and a mission that is encountering an ever-increasing problem.
Bear management is a community problem, said Yamashita. Bears are omnivores and skilful scavengers, he explained, which brings them in close contact with humans – especially with human garbage.
“Frankly, as a state, we need to reshape our perception of bear management,” said Yamashita. “Everyone must be on the same page.”
Park and wildlife biologist Julie Mao found that bear numbers have generally declined only marginally over the past decade or have remained stable despite the loss of bear habitat.
“In many ways, bear numbers can be viewed as a success story,” she noted.
But while actual animal numbers have not skyrocketed, the number of bear reports has already skyrocketed. This dynamic is one of the issues that will affect the new management plan.
“We want to continue to work with local communities to reduce human-bear conflicts,” Mao said.
Mao noted that 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, which are detailed in a draft management plan. The first is to try modest crops and license quotas to keep the current population stable. The second is to reduce the population through higher harvests and more licenses. At the point where human-bear incidents have decreased by 50%, or bear declines have been recorded for three consecutive years, the strategy for higher harvests can be reassessed.
The second alternative is the agency’s preferred approach, but the public also has the opportunity to express themselves personally and in a survey on the alternatives. Wildlife managers emphasize that the process is heavily dependent on public preferences in addition to established wildlife management practices.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney predicted that the public will have a lot to say on the matter. She found that surveys conducted by Eagle County show local residents value the local wildlife population and support efforts to protect wildlife.
“We have to help them understand this is how it works,” she said, referring to the draft management plan. “But people really like to see the bears. You need to understand that it is not in the best interests of the animal to see a bear. “
Yamashita agreed. He found that it can be an impressive experience to see a bear crossing a remote mountain meadow. Seeing a bear climb out of a dumpster behind a local restaurant isn’t that great, he noted.
“We cannot be blind to the fact that human-bear conflict is an integral part of bear management,” he said.
Parks and wildlife will host their public session on the draft Black Bear Management Plan Eagle Valley / Roaring Fork this Friday, October 22nd at 6:00 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Recreation Center.
In addition to the public session, the public can post written comments and take a short survey at TinyURL.com/b11survey2021. All survey responses and written comments must be submitted by Wednesday November 10th.