Increase in licenses reflects concern over black bear numbers

Research indicates Colorado has more black bears than earlier estimated, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is targeting a program to reduce the state’s bear numbers.

It’s not a good time to be a black bear in western Colorado.

After years of seeing the state’s black bear population grow amidst a chorus of complaints from hunters, livestock growers and farmers, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is set to reverse that growth.

Several years of black bear research are saying the state’s bear population is substantially higher than previous estimates, something ranchers have been saying for years.

“In my country, there’s a bear behind every bush,” said Wildlife Commissioner Robert Bray, a rancher from Nucla. “It’s ridiculous, and we have to do something.”

Jerry Apker, state carnivore biologist for Parks and Wildlife, told the Parks and Wildlife Commission on Thursday that bear licenses this year are up 210 percent since 2010.

“Our harvest is up 58 percent, and the mortality is up 60 percent,” Apker said, adding both are indicative of a healthy bear population. “In most areas, the plan is to continue bear population reductions.”

Bear licenses for the six game-management units on Grand Mesa were increased from 480 in 2012 to 1,000 this year in response to the growing numbers.

“We let the population get too big,” Parks and Wildlife Northwest Region manager Ron Velarde said. “We are concerned about human health and safety, increased conflicts with human and livestock, and predation.

“We’re going to change course in our bear management.”

Areas where bear conflicts are common, such as the Roaring Fork Valley, have been under siege in recent years.

“We’ve removed some real troublemakers in recent years, and that’s a made a real difference” in bear conflicts, said Parks and Wildlife area manager Perry Will of Glenwood Springs. “But it hasn’t stopped it completely, and I don’t think we ever will, because that’s such great bear country.”

Will said wildlife officers earlier this month trapped a house-breaking bear in Aspen. The bear’s size was estimated at 500 pounds.

“It had a 55-inch girth, and our scales only go to 49 inches, so we don’t know exactly how big it was,” Will said. “But it was a big bear.”


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