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Boulder Bear Coalition Mission:

The Boulder Bear Coalition implements preventative measures to reduce human-bear conflicts to keep local black bears wild and free and the Boulder community safe.

Here is a short video about the inspiration behind Boulder Bear Coalition, thanks to Melanie Hill!

BBCs main driver has been to approach Bear Management from the bottom up. Rather than relying on wildlife officers to keep the bears safe, BBC has focused on educating and empowering the community to keep bears from coming into town (by reducing attractants, increasing deterrents) so that wildlife officers do not need to handle bears in town. For community members who do not reduce the main attractants (unsecured trash) then the city steps in to implement and enforce these laws. A community is built on shared values, and because wildlife is something that most residents in Boulder value, BBC was born from a need to create a cohesive understanding of what we can do, in clear steps, to protect bears and how we can effectively communicate this information to one another (social media, public events, our upcoming Bear Wise Program).

Brief history of bear management in Boulder:
Late summer/early fall in Boulder is synonymous with seeing bears, as they venture into the city looking for food. Bears that become habituated to people are considered a “nuisance” by local wildlife officials and are consequently tranquilized, tagged, relocated and, for many, killed by Colorado Parks and 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.

Why relocation is not an effective management tool:
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 Parks and 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. 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.  For more information, see a description here.

CPW’s definition of a “nuisance” or “problem” bear:
A “nuisance” bear 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:
An aggressive bear meets one or more of the items below (1-Strike applies):

  • has charged several people
  • eaten livestock
  • entered a home

A Solution: Proactive Bear Management

We have identified four main proactive strategies that need to be addressed to keep future bears safe:

  1.  Keep  bears from coming into town
    • Increase use of bear resistant trash and compost bins throughout town
      1. expand to areas beyond Bear Protection Ordinance Zone
    • Effective proactive enforcement of trash laws by Boulder City Police Enforcement to ensure trash is stored securely
    • Increase harvesting of fruit throughout town
      1. BBC is a partner of Community Fruit Rescue, a volunteer fruit harvesting group to help reduce waste, share local harvest and reduce fruit as an attractant to bears
    • Take in bird feeders and other attractants
    • BBC is developing a Proactive Bear Management Plan which includes mapping out 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 neighborhood (i.e. Goose Creek area where Bear 317 was regularly seen and later killed).
    • BBC is creating BearSafe Neighborhoods to increase community outreach and accountability for reducing attractants
  2.  When a bear does come into town, improving ways to negatively reinforce their desire to stay
    • Increase use of electric fencing around beehives and chicken coops
    • Increase use of electric unwelcome mats near entrances to food storage areas
    • Improve hazing techniques for bears that are in town
    • BBC is creating BearSafe Neighborhoods to increase community outreach and accountability for increasing deterrents
  3.  Increase native food source in open space
    • BBC is working with the City of Boulder Open Space and Wild Foundation to develop a Native Food Buffer in open space.
  4. Review criteria for relocation and euthanization of bears 
    • Currently CPW manages bears by monitoring bears that are in town using Bear Sitters (a fantastic volunteer program), relocating bears that become a nuisance in town and euthanizing those that are repeatedly hanging out in town or who show aggression towards a person. The community of Boulder has regularly expressed a desire to review the criteria used to handle bears in town. This would involve 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.

Banner photo credit: Melanie Hill. Bear on CU Campus Summer 2016
Bear Sleeping in Tree photo credit: Brenda Lee, bear in tree in Newlands neighborhood, Summer 2013

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