Hundreds of bears are killed in Colorado each year as a result of interactions with people outside of hunting. Wildlife officials have traditionally managed human-bear conflict by adjusting hunting permits and regulations and by moving or destroying bears, yet conflicts with people and bears and the number of incidents and complaints continue on an upward swing.
Once bears become conditioned to receiving food rewards from people it is very difficult to change their behavior and options can be limited to wildlife managers, most commonly including: capturing and relocating bears and lethal removal of nuisance bears
Black bears tend to be doing well in most states they inhabit. As bear populations remain stable or increase while more and more people move into bear country the ineffectiveness of traditional management tools for reducing human-bear conflict leave several puzzling aspects in resolving human-bear issues. Watch a short YouTube video on relocation and other management tools.
Three key tools for reducing human-bear conflict remain unchanged:
- Proper waste management systems
- Educating the public on living with bears
- Proper enforcement of community wildlife ordinances
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Two-Strike Policy: A bear who’s behavior is deemed threatening is captured, tagged for identification and relocated. If the same bear returns or continues the same behavior elsewhere, it is recaptured and humanely destroyed. A bear simply wandering through town does not warrant capture. A bear must exhibit threatening behavior, such as breaking into a garage, be causing property damage or be considered a personal safety risk to warrant initial capture.
NUISANCE BEAR REMOVAL
People have long attracted bears into residential areas with food rewards and then wanted “nuisance” bears punished with relocation or destruction for accepting an easy meal. Once these bears are removed, a void has been created for other bears to move into this vacated habitat and problems merely continue with a different bear. Often, the initial attractants are left unaddressed. Landowners are legally allowed to dispatch bears that are causing property damage or are a risk to public safety. Wildlife officers destroy problematic bears for the same reasons. The vast majority of nuisance bear removals involve bears that have accessed human foods.
“Nobody goes into this business because they want to put down bears. It’s probably one of the toughest parts of their jobs. That said, they (wildlife officers) have a responsibility to protect the public safety and when people fail in people’s responsibility to take care of their trash or their bird feeders or their pet food then we do have to step in and it’s our obligation and we will continue to do that job even though it’s not popular.” — Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson, Randy Hampton
“When bears must be killed, agencies shouldn’t hide it. You need to use it as a learning experience, explain to people what led to it and why you were forced to do it. Many people will be furious, as I am when I’m forced to kill a healthy bear. People need to understand that these bears are victims of their communities or wherever they were continually attracted by and rewarded with food.” — Rich Beausoleil, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Over the years, wildlife agencies have tried to solve bear and human conflicts by capturing and moving problem bears. Although effective on some bears, typically juvenile males yet to establish a home range, one could easily argue that relocation, (translocation), isn’t the best solution to bear and human conflict.
Relocating problem bears is expensive both in manpower and cost, most good bear habitat is already occupied by other bears or people and a lot of relocated bears end up dead.
Approximately 80% of black bear relocations from 1989 to 1993 in Yosemite National Park failed, with bears resuming problematic behavior leading to recapture. Another study elsewhere showed a post-relocation survival rate of around 30-35%. Trapping the desired animal is also problematic: one study revealed that four out of six captured bears were “non-target” individuals.
In addition, relocation merely treats the symptoms, not the initial problem of bears accessing human food. Whether you move a bear from a problem area or not, the initial reasons for how the bear was obtaining food at that location still needs to be addressed. Other bears will simply fill the void left by relocated bears. If a dominant male bear is moved from a location, for example, typically younger more inexperienced bears will assume that territory. See photos of Black Bear Relocation.
With exception, bears that have been relocated:
- Quickly return to where they captured, likely to resume their problematic behavior
- Remain in their new location, continuing problematic behavior in a new place
- Are killed in their new locations as a result of conflicts with other bears
- Are killed in attempts getting back to their original home range territory
The Nevada Department of Wildlife relocated eight bears from the Lake Tahoe area one year and tracked them using radio collars. Seven of the eight quickly returned to the Lake Tahoe basin and the eighth was struck by a car. The furthest was taken 70 air miles away – across two mountain ranges and three valleys. It returned in 18 days, covering over 200 miles.
“Statistics show over 90% of relocated bears are killed within 3 weeks of being relocated.” – Colorado Parks and Wildlife, letter to Durango West Metro District II, 2010
“But the whole thing about trapping and moving (relocating) bears is, does it really resolve the problem? Why was the bear causing issues to begin with? I almost guarantee you it’s because of trash and fruit trees.” – Kevin Wright, Colorado Parks and Wildlife
DIVERSIONARY FEEDING OF BEARS
Wildlife agencies sometimes will supplement food resources in times of poor natural food conditions or extreme weather – supplying elk and other ungulates with hay during severe winters, for example. Many question whether the same couldn’t be done for bears during years of natural food failures and there are programs in place elsewhere attempting to address this. Diversionary feeding of bears is not without either difficulty or concerns.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission made recommendations on the diversionary feeding of bears in late 2013. You can read their report here. Retired CDOW black bear researcher Tom Beck wrote about the concerns with diversionary feeding of bears years earlier and you can read his discussion on the topic here.
“Every bear we move or destroy means a failure in our management strategy. In changing the behavior of people, I’ll wield a stick instead of dangling a carrot anytime.” — Neil Barton, Alaska Fish and Game
Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said “the success rate for relocated bears is only 30 percent.” — The Aspen Times,
August 13, 2013
Banner photo courtesy: Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Bear relocation photo courtesy: The Denver Post
Trapped bear photo courtesy: Linda Masterson