Colorado Parks and Wildlife received 4,282 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears in 2022, which was a 16% increase from 2021, but a 1.3% decrease from the previous two years.
In 2019, CPW launched a new bear reporting system to help wildlife managers track and quantify bear activity and conflicts across the state. The data collected is used to see overall trends and identify sources of conflict on a localized, regional and statewide level. Since its implementation in April 2019, CPW has recorded 18,351 reports of sightings and conflicts with bears, of which nearly one-third are traced back to bears getting into trash.
The data from the annual bear cycle informs CPW’s wildlife managers where bears are at and what they are up to, helping CPW identify sources of conflict and make educated management decisions. If you see a bear causing trouble in an urban area, call CPW to report it.
In 2022, Gov. Jared Polis signed HB 21-1326 with the goal of reducing human-bear conflicts. This bill provides funding for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and CPW, including $1 million for native species conservation, to be distributed to local communities.
“We need help from local communities to develop strategies to secure garbage and other attractants across bear habitat,” said Kristin Cannon, deputy regional manager for CPW’s Northeast Region. “Ultimately, it will also require individuals to take some responsibility and follow proper guidelines on living appropriately with bears to protect them.”
Recapping bear reports from 2022
Bears attempting to access trash continues to be the leading cause of conflict. Other constant sources of conflict include birdfeeders, livestock, bears accessing open garages and other human-originated items that are left unsecured. These conflicts could all easily be reduced if the public takes some simple steps around their homes and properties to prevent bears from accessing them.
Drought conditions and other factors that may influence the availability of natural food crops for bears varies across the state, as does the behavior of people when it relates to human-bear interactions. Those all play a role in the bear activity that we see annually.
On the eastern side of the state, conflicts were relatively low despite a spring freeze that had CPW officials worried the wild berry and nut crop might be impacted. Fortunately, freezing temperatures were followed by a good amount of moisture, leading to plenty of natural forage for bears east of the Continental Divide. Compared to 2020 and 2021, CPW’s Southeast Region saw an 18% decrease in bear calls while the Northeast Region saw a 6% decrease.
Colorado’s West Slope, especially CPW’s Northwest Region, was less fortunate. The late freeze held in that side of the state, leading to a food failure in most areas with natural berry and acorn crops being almost nonexistent. Compared to 2020 and 2021, CPW’s Southwest Region saw a 3% decrease in bear reports, but the Northwest Region, where much of the region was in severe drought, saw an increase of 9%.
Report bear sightings and conflicts to CPW
One concern CPW is aware of from the public is a reluctance to report bear activity over a belief it will lead to the bear being put down. Data shows that of the 18,351 reports wildlife managers have received on bears in the last four years, only 2.3% led to euthanization.
When CPW is made aware, especially when conflicts first begin, wildlife officers can educate the community, make site visits to homes to help them secure attractants and can haze bears in an attempt to reinforce their natural fear of humans. In some circumstances, wildlife officers can attempt to relocate bears out of conflict areas to alleviate safety concerns or before that animal’s behavior escalates to a dangerous level which may require euthanization. In the last four years, CPW has relocated 272 bears from sites of conflict, but wildlife officers stress relocation is not a fix-all solution.
Below is the number of bears euthanized and relocated annually by CPW. The euthanization numbers released in prior years have been updated from what has been previously reported, as internal auditing each spring quantifies all sources of bear mortality in Colorado.
- 2022: 94 euthanized, 59 relocated
- 2021: 66 euthanized, 51 relocated
- 2020: 158 euthanized, 118 relocated
- 2019: 101 euthanized, 44 relocated
- 2018: 79 euthanized, 24 relocated
- 2017: 190 euthanized, 109 relocated
- 2016: 66 euthanized, 16 relocated
- 2015: 115 euthanized, 40 relocated
Wildlife managers estimate that Colorado has between 17,000 – 20,000 bears and the population is stable and growing. The black bear is the only species of bear in the state, however these bruins can be brown, blond, cinnamon and black in color.
Become Bear Aware
Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers a reminder that by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid human/wildlife conflicts and help to keep bears wild.
Bear-proofing your home
- Keep garbage in a well-secured location. Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup.
- Clean garbage cans regularly to keep them free of food odors: ammonia is effective.
- Keep garage doors closed, Do not leave pet food or stock feed outside.
- Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.
- Bird feeders are a major source of bear/human conflicts. Attract birds naturally with flowers and water baths. Do not hang bird feeders from April 15 to Nov. 15.
- Don’t allow bears to become comfortable around your house. If you see one, haze it by yelling at it, throwing things at it and making loud noises to scare it off.
- Secure compost piles. Bears are attracted to the scent of rotting food.
- Clean the grill after each use, clean-up thoroughly after cookouts.
- If you have fruit trees, don’t allow the fruit to rot on the ground.
- Talk to your neighbors and kids about being Bear Aware.
Cars, traveling, and campsites
- Lock your doors when you’re away from home and at night.
- Keep the bottom floor windows of your house closed when you’re not at home.
- Do not keep food in your vehicle; roll up windows and lock the doors of your vehicles.
- When car-camping, secure all food and coolers in a locked vehicle.
- Keep a clean camp, whether you’re in a campground or in the backcountry.
- When camping in the backcountry, hang food 100 feet or more from the campsite; don’t bring any food into your tent.
- Cook food well away from your tent; wash dishes thoroughly.
Protecting your chickens, bees, livestock
- Keep chickens, bees and livestock in a fully covered enclosure, especially at night.
- Construct electric fencing when possible.
- Don’t store livestock feed outside.
- Keep enclosures clean to minimize animal odors.
- Hang rags soaked in ammonia and/or Pine-Sol around the enclosure as a scent deterrent.
Written by Joey Livingston. Joey is a statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.