GJ lawmaker Willett eyes legislation for bear hunting

A Grand Junction lawmaker who sought a summer hunting season for black bears will instead try to persuade state officials to study what he calls a bear overpopulation and find ways to reduce conflicts with humans.

House Bill 1099, sponsored by Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, originally proposed establishing an annual “general purpose” hunt for black bears between Aug. 1 and Sept. 1, after which the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission would have the option to authorize subsequent hunts until Oct. 31.

The bill also sought to allow the use of liquid scent bait for the August bear hunt, redefining “bait” to exclude liquids that merely smell like food.

Currently, bear hunting is allowed from Sept. 2 through mid-November.

Spring bear hunts — including hunting bears with dogs and bait — were outlawed in 1992 and since then, according to Parks and Wildlife, the number of bear hunters has increased.

Also on the upswing is the number of bears killed and the income generated for Colorado Parks and Wildlife through bear tag sales.

In recent years, hunter success has essentially doubled the pre-1992 numbers.

The Associated Press reported that Willett, in his first term in the state House, has backed off his proposal to allow bear hunting in August in favor of studying the matter for possible legislation next year.

He said there’s bipartisan support for the approach.

Willett’s new bill would direct Parks and Wildlife to evaluate management tools for the state’s black bear population, with input from hunters, animal activists and local governments.

“Going down the road to an expanded bear hunt this year had no traction and no likelihood of success,” Willett said last week.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has estimated the state’s bear population around 18,000. The agency’s current annual mortality objective for black bears is about 1,800.

In 2014, 17,000 bear hunters harvested 1,364 bears for an 8 percent success rate.

Willett has said the black bear population is a safety issue and recounted stories about bears getting into barns and sheds and allegedly chasing mountain bikers.


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