The number of reported bear sightings and interactions are down throughout most of Colorado as the state mostly emerges from drought conditions, and that’s a promising development, according to wildlife officials.
Currently, most of eastern Colorado is drought free after a relatively wet spring and summer, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought conditions have improved recently in three-quarters of the state, compared to drier years in 2019 and 2020, with the exception, for the most part, of northwest Colorado where the extreme corner of the state is in “exceptional drought” and most other areas in the region are in “extreme drought,” the two worst categories.
Less drought around much of Colorado this year, however, is likely contributing to a decrease in reported bear sightings and interactions in most areas, said Jason Clay, a Colorado Park and Wildlife spokesman for the northeast region.
“Three of the four regions of the state have seen a decrease in bear reports” so far this year compared to 2020 and 2019, Clay said. “The northwest is the only area this year with an increase.”
The CPW divides the state into four regions: northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest.
Less severe drought conditions means that bears are more likely to forage for natural food — including roots, berries, insects, grass, succulent plants and larvae — in the back country as healthy, moisture driven conditions thrive. In drought conditions, bears are often forced into towns and populated areas looking for meals from humans, dumpster diving and breaking into homes and vehicles. In the spring, a 39-year-old La Plata County woman was killed by a bear when she was walking her dogs.
Total bear reports received by the CPW from January through August 10 in 2019 was 3,173, according to data. In 2020 the number was 3,034 and this year 2,426. The numbers in the northeast region over the same time frames respectively are 735, 722 and 495. The 2021 number for the northeast region is about a 20% decrease from the two previous years.
“Drought is just one factor that can affect food availability” along with late freezes, or flooding like in 2013, being others, Clay said. “Just because bears have abundant natural food sources does not mean that they won’t take advantage of opportunities like unsecured garbage.”
Colorado residents should continue to take precautions, including securing garbage, not leaving food outside, and keeping vehicles and residential downstairs windows closed and doors locked when not at home or not driving. Bird feeders, pet food stock and feed for other wild animals can attract bears.
The decrease in bear reports so far this year are encouraging for both the bears and humans, demonstrating less conflict, and anecdotally, less injury and destruction. The busy season for bears, known as hyperphagia, when they go on an eating and drinking binge to fatten up for winter hibernation, is just underway.
Combining the total bear reports from all of 2019 and 2020, 44% of the over 10,000 reports came from the months of August, September and October, according to CPW data.
“We don’t want bear conflicts,” Clay said. “It’s been a good natural food year for the bears, with the northwest possibly being the exception. We’ll see how the fall goes.”
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