Declining human-bear conflicts linked to wetter seasons |

Declining human-bear conflicts linked to wetter seasons

Tracy Ross
A bear cub hides between the branches high in a tree in Steamboat Springs. Drier areas of the state saw more human-bear encounters last year than in previous years.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Wildlife managers have released a report showing that human-bear conflicts in Colorado are influenced by weather-related factors such as drought and “early freeze events,” as well as years with plentiful moisture.

Per Colorado Parks and Wildlife, bear activity across the state in 2021 correlated to drought patterns during the year’s spring, summer and fall seasons. More than 90 percent of a bear’s natural diet is grasses, berries, fruits, and other crops dependent on moisture, says Adrian Archuleta, Area Wildlife Manager for CPW out of Durango.

“In years where we get good moisture and the food mast is readily available and abundant, we don’t tend to have as interactions and conflict,” he said.

But in very dry years or those with a late frost, conflicts between the two species spike.

Weather patterns last year dictated both lower and higher encounter rates depending on where they happened in Colorado. Each of the eastern, southeastern, northeastern and southwestern regions saw a decline in encounters, correlated to plentiful moisture. But much of the northwest region, where Grand County lies, was in severe drought and numbers were up 192 (to 1,834) from 2020, but also lower than the record of 2,146 in 2019.

CPW collected this data with a new tracking system, introduced in 2019, which it uses to see the overall picture of human-bear encounters in the state, and to identify trends and sources of conflict on a localized, regional and statewide level. Since tracking began in 2019, it has recorded 14,013 reports of sighting and conflicts with bears, of which nearly one-third are traced back to bears getting into trash.

In Grand County, most towns have ordinances requiring homeowners to have bear-resistant trash containers. Snow accumulation in the Upper Headwaters Region is currently 90% to 109% above average. But there’s no telling how this will affect human-bear encounters until the bears emerge from hibernation.


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