Clashes with bears spike sharply in 2012

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — On June 11, 2012, Perry Will already knew it would be a bad year for bears. The previous night, a hard frost had settled over much of western Colorado, nipping thousands of acres of the chokecherry, serviceberry and acorn-bearing oakbrush that bears in the western Rockies rely on for food.

That meant one thing: the creatures were coming to town.

Will, a 38-year veteran of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, a division of the Department of Natural Resources, manages a three-county part of Western Colorado called Area 8. It includes eastern Garfield County, and all of Eagle and Pitkin counties.

In his 38 years in wildlife management, Will has never seen a bear season like 2012: Through November of this year there were 100 bears killed, up from just 32 in 2011. In 2009, another dry year, the total was 59. .

“Years ago, those kind of numbers were unheard of,” he said, sitting in his Canyon Creek office on a recent December day. “We’ve got more bears now than we’ve ever had.”

Just down the hall from his office, a large whiteboard covered in red ink spells out the details. On it were descriptions of all the bears killed by motorists, private landowners, accidents, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife agents in Zone 8 this year. Each listing included gender, tag number, date and place of death.

CPW Public Information Officer Mike Porras said the department has kept comprehensive bear records for only a few years.

The primary culprit for those conflicts in 2012, according to Will, was the late killing frost, combined with the year’s historic drought.

“When those plants are stressed, they don’t produce,” he said of staples of the bruin diet. “And in August, when bears need to be consuming 20,000 calories a day, you can bet that you’ll see them in town.”


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