RBC I Colorado Parks and Wildlife held a meeting in Rangely on Feb. 1 to discuss the future of the thriving local bear population.
The goal of the meeting, which consisted of a presentation by CPW biologist Stephanie Duckett, was to inform the public on the current status of black bears in the area as well as discuss what direction the public would like to see that population head.
Traditionally, black bears have been harvested conservatively in Colorado due to their late reproductive maturity and slow reproductive process. Bears are typically unable to breed until age five and females normally only produce cubs every other year.
Because of this, bears have been considered a species susceptible to being over-harvested. However, according the CPW’s latest estimates, the bear population in Colorado has been significantly growing during the last decade. Current estimates put the statewide population between 16,000 and 18,000 bears.
Bear management units contain multiple game management units. The local units discussed at the meeting include game management units 21, 22, 30, 31 and 32, which include the Grand Junction, Rifle, Meeker and Rangely areas. This area is estimated to currently house approximately 1,364 bears.
This increase in bear population has caused numerous problems statewide.
The CPW reports increased damage and bear confrontations, regardless of habitat conditions, over the last several years. Because of the continually growing population of bears, the CPW is currently drafting a plan to reduce the population over the next few years, accomplished, official said, primarily through hunting.
The State of Colorado began limiting bear hunts in 1989 and passed Amendment 10 to the Colorado Constitution in 1992. This amendment eliminated a spring bear hunt, baiting and the use of dogs in hunting bears. Because these changes were made to the state constitution, it would require a citizen petition to restore these techniques. Therefore, they are not being considered by the CPW, officials said.
In order to realize the reduced bear population, the CPW is asking for public input on two key issues. The first is considering what the bear population should be. The options CPW will consider are: maintaining a stable population at its current size; moderately decreasing from current levels then maintaining the size; or significantly decreasing the bear population and then maintaining that reduced level.
The CPW officials stated that they would not entertain the thought of increasing the population from its current level.
The second issue CPW is seeking input on is how to reduce the bear population through hunting. The population has been growing so rapidly that in order to stabilize the population at its current size, the number of bears killed by hunting and other impacts will need to double.
According to the CPW, during the 2014 hunting season there were more bear licenses available than there were hunters who applied for them, therefore indicating that simply increasing the number of permits would not significantly increase the number of bears harvested.
Instead, the CPW has made several changes to the 2015 bear hunt. Archery, muzzleloader and the limited September rifle season will stay the same as they were in 2014. However, as of this year, one bear license will be good for all four rifle seasons.
In order to use this bear license, a hunter must also have either a deer or elk rifle license for one of the GMU’s listed on the bear license.
Another way the CPW hopes to impact the population is by not allowing nuisance bears to be relocated and given multiple chances.
A draft of the official plan will be available for public comment in April.
The CPW is currently seeking feedback through a survey located on their website and encourage all interested parties to fill it out. The survey can be accessed at www.research.net /s/B1DAUplansurvey.