To protect local black bears so they remain alive and wild.
Late summer/early fall in Boulder is synonymous with seeing bears, as they venture into the city looking for food. Bears that become a “nuisance” by becoming too comfortable living in the city are tranquilized, tagged, relocated and, for many, killed by Colorado Department of Wildlife officers. There are many reasons why this reactive management policy needs to change, especially since there are things we can do as a community to improve the fate of Boulder bears. There are two issues that need to be addressed to keep future bears safe: 1) How to keep bears from coming into our town in the first place and 2) When a bear does come into town, what is an acceptable bear management policy?
Current Bear Management Policy
During hyperphagia, a time of increased eating to prepare for hibernation, bears are attracted into town by the lure of unsecured trash, unharvested fruit trees, beehives, chicken coops, bird feeders, open grills, etc. Some of these bears will become habituated to people and food conditioned to these easily available calories, thus becoming “nuisance” bears. Colorado Department of Wildlife (CPW) officers, whose priority is to keep people safe from wild animals, are charged with managing the bears in town. The “nuisance” bears are tranquilized, tagged (Boulder bears are given a green ear tag in each ear) and relocated outside the city. Unfortunately since many areas of Colorado are also dealing with their own “nuisance” bears, options on where to release a bear is limited. Thus bears are often relocated within 50 miles of their original point of capture, and as study after study shows, despite no visual cues, relocated bears typically return to their place of capture or are hit by cars trying to return. Relocation does not work in part because bears need to find their own territory and being released into another bear’s already established territory can be dangerous for the relocated bear, especially a sow with cubs. Bears that return to the city limits and continue to be “nuisance” bears are shot and killed by CPW. In summary, if a bear has to be handled twice by a CPW officer, the second time it is killed. See Colorado’s 2-Strike Policy for more information.
CPW’s definition of a “nuisance” or “problem” bear is a bear that meets one or more of the items below (2-Strike Policy applies):
- a bear that is continually reported in town eating unsecured trash
- a bear that is continually reported in town eating natural food (fruit from trees)
- a resident of home where a bear has been habitually seen wants the bear removed
- a bear does a bluff charge, including a sow with young cubs (in other places such as Yosemite this is considered normal behavior and would not justify labeling her as aggressive or a problem)
CPW’s definition of an “aggressive” bear is a bear that meets one or more of the items below (1-Strike applies):
- has charged several people
- eaten livestock
- entered a home
What is the solution? Proactive versus Reactive Bear Management
There is more that we can do to protect our local bears and keep them from being killed by CPW officers. The first area of focus is on proactively keeping bears from coming into town. We can do this by reducing attractants that bring bears into town, such as unsecured trash, chicken coops, beehives, fruit trees, bird feeders. We can increase the use of electric fencing, electric mats around beehives and chicken coops,improve hazing techniques before the bears enter town, increase use of bear-resistant trash/compost bins. The city of Boulder can implement proactive code enforcement for trash during hyperphagia (July-November). Boulder Bear Coalition is developing a Proactive Bear Management Plan which includes mapping natural corridors that bears are using to come into town and finding ways to reduce the ease of bears moving from open space to densely populated neighborhoods (ie Goose Creek). In addition we will be looking at planting fruit bearing trees natural to the area in open space, including varieties that would survive a freeze such as the one Boulder experienced last fall which created a low harvest the following spring. Boulder Bear Coalition is also working on creating BearSafe Neighborhoods to increase community outreach and accountability for reducing attractants.
The second area of focus is on Reactive Management of bears that are in town. This involves looking at the current methods of managing bears that are in town and making appropriate changes based on the community tolerance and more humane alternatives to euthanasia. There are two approaches to this. The first is looking at eliminating CPW’s 2-Strike Policy. Boulder Bear Coalition believes that Bear 317 would have been killed regardless of the 2-Strike Policy given the current definitions of “aggressive” behavior. Thus we are focused on potentially revising the definition of “nuisance” or “problem” bears such that fewer are ever handled in the first place (thus eliminating any need for a “first strike”). Because most relocated bears return, especially a sow with young cubs, this first strike often seals a bear’s fate, thus relocation should only be used in rare cases (eg. buying time to remove the original attractant before the bear returns). We would like to have a clear definition of “nuisance” and “problem” bears based on wildlife officers knowledge, scientific understanding and community tolerance. We would also like to have a clearer understanding of what CPW considers “aggressive” behavior, since this results in a death sentence. For example, is bluff charging considered aggressive? How does an officer or a layperson know if it is a bluff charge? Are there different criteria for sows with cubs than a lone bruin? In order to create greater trust within the community, the community would like to have better, more transparent accountability for each relocated and euthanized bear. What happened, how was the decision made? The community would like to know that the decision is not based on a subjective officer or resident’s opinion but on substantive and clear understanding that the bear is a clear threat to human life.