It could be a bad year for black bears, according to Kelly Crane, Colorado Parks & Wildlife District Manager in the Ouray-Ridgway area. The drought is affecting the bears’ natural food sources, which could result in more human-bear interactions.
“When their natural food sources aren’t available, it pushes them into more urban environments to look for food,” Crane explained.
Last summer, a mother bear and her two cubs were making the rounds in the City of Ouray and nearby campgrounds. Typically, wildlife officials and police officers will haze bears with a Taser, a brand of electroshock “stun gun,” to scare them away. But that might not be as effective as originally thought, Crane said.
“We’ve been using Tasers for the last few years, and we’ve spent a lot of hours last year trying to haze bears. We just weren’t sure how effective our efforts were,” she said. “When you spend 100-plus hours trying to haze bears with Tasers, it’s not going to be cost-effective if it’s not working. “
Crane said she personally spent over 100 hours in 2017 hazing bears, while two wildlife officers in the Ouray area exhausted an additional 200-plus hours repelling bears. And that’s not counting the Ouray Police Department’s bear-deterrent efforts.
The CPW and police department are partnering to conduct a three-year black bear hazing research project to determine the most effective methods for hazing, starting this summer.
The study will include 10 adult bears (five in the control group and five in the study group). The bears will be equipped with GPS collars. If bears from the control group visit the city, they’ll be hazed with Tasers. The study group will be hazed using different methods, including rubber bullets, beanbag shotgun rounds, and “scare tactics” involving light and/or sound, Crane said.
A GPS collar costs $1,250, while a trap transmitter runs $480. Crane requested $8,000 from Ouray County for the project.
Police officers will be required to fill out study data forms whenever they haze a bear.
Crane said a study like this hasn’t been done before in the area, so it’s important to collect such data. In addition to determining the effectiveness of each hazing methods, the study will help officials identify hazing “gaps” and needs. (“I’ve been a wildlife officer for 20 years and have used a number of different hazing methods,” Crane said.)
Crane said that there haven’t been any sightings reported of bears in the Ouray area yet, but that’s not the case everywhere: “There are bears in the state that are already up and out” of hibernation.
The CPW sent out a news release on Thursday stressing the importance of being “bear aware,” and listing ways that people can minimize their chances of a “human-bear interaction.”
“It’s critical for folks to remember that if a bear finds a meal in or around your home and becomes unafraid of people, it is more likely that a human-bear interaction can occur,” said Mark Lamb, a CPW wildlife manager. “Careless behavior by people, whether leaving your trash out, keeping a dirty campsite or, worst of all, purposely feeding a bear, is most often what leads to these interactions. Unfortunately, our wildlife managers are then tasked to remedy many avoidable problems.”
CPW officials said black bears do not typically hunt humans. However, since they are “large, powerful animals,” they pose a “very serious risk to human health and safety when they become conditioned to finding meals from human sources,” according to the release.
For more information about becoming bear aware, visit “Living with Wildlife” at cpw.state.co.us and click on “Learn.”