Bears now

According to the Chinese astrological calendar this is the year of the Dragon, if you ask the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) they will tell you it has been the year of the bear.

There have been many problems with bearhuman conflicts since Spring due to the low amount of forage that is available to bears this summer. Dry weather and poor bear mainstay crops (berries and acorns) have led to bears following their noses into civilization trying to find some nourishment. If the conflicts with humans haven't been enough, many people that have heard about the bears' plight and have begun to feed the bears and to call for feeding programs for the bruins.

This is a strategy, however well-intentioned, that the DOW says would be detrimental to the bear population and to Colorado's wild lands.

"Bears are intelligent creatures that can live for more than 20 years, and once they learn to associate people with food, they won't forget," said Tom Beck a Division research biologist who has studied black bears extensively.

"The next time there is a failure of the berry crop or acorn crop, bears will return to the same place where they've found human food in the past," Beck explained. "Feeding bears that have already been eating food provided by people only reinforces bad behavior."

Not only does feeding bears encourage bad behavior from bears, it is also bad behavior for humans.

Feeding big game which includes black bear is illegal in Colorado. People who are caught feeding bears are subject to a fine.

The DOW has received dozens of calls from homeowners in areas with poor habitat conditions, including some higher elevations of Moffat County, suggesting that the DOW should begin a feeding program a program that the DOW is not willing to put together.

John Ellenberger, the DOW big game coordinator, said that feeding would only increase the bear problems.

"We don't want to habituate bears to food provided by people," said Ellenberger. "Bears are coming to people for food because of the dry conditions and a freeze in some areas that killed blossoms on berry bushes and oak brush in mid-elevation shrub habitat where they feed. We're having problems because people have built homes right in the middle of the brush habitat that bears depend on and some have left food out that bears become accustomed to."

The DOW says that only a small percentage of bears will die this winter during hibernation because of the poor forage. Some young animals may not survive the winter, but adult bears, including sows that produce young, will make it through the winter. It is a part of a cycle that is natural to the black bear species.

"Feeding (bears) will only reinforce the behavior we're trying to avoid and end up causing more problems," said Ellenberger. "The large majority of adult bears will survive even if they don't get as much to eat as they typically would this summer and fall.

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