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Bear Research
Bear Research
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Black Bear Use of Urban Environments: Testing Management Solutions and Assessing Population Effects

Led By

Heather E. Johnson in collaboration with Jerry Apker, John Broderick, Stacy Lischke, Patt Dorsey (all CPW), Stewart Breck (National Wildlife Research Center), Jon Beckmann (Wildlife Conservation Society), and Ken Wilson (Colorado State University).

Study Area

Field data are being collected near Durango, CO

Project Status

Ongoing

Research Objectives

  • To determine the influence of urban environments on black bear behavior and population trends.

  • To test management strategies for reducing bear-human conflicts.

  • To examine public attitudes and behaviors related to bear-human encounters.

  • To develop population and habitat models to monitor and manage bears.

Project Description­­

Black bear-human encounters and conflicts are increasing in Colorado and across the country. This trend is likely to continue as residential development expands and changes in weather (such as more frequent droughts) reduce the availability of natural foods for bears. Bear-human conflicts commonly result in property damage, threats to public safety, rising wildlife management costs, and high bear mortality.

Despite these consequences, the scientific community does not know if increases in conflicts reflect changes in the number of bears or a behavioral shift to eating human food resources or a combination of both. Without a thorough understanding of the relationship between conflict rates, bear behavior and population dynamics, wildlife agencies cannot successfully reduce conflicts through management.

A statewide increase in bear-human encounters and conflicts is a high priority management issue for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). As a result, CPW initiated a comprehensive, five-year research project to identify factors responsible for rising conflicts and to test management strategies to reduce those conflicts in the future. Most of the data for this project are being collected in the vicinity of Durango, Colorado, but regional and statewide information will also be used to meet project objectives.

To meet project objectives, the research staff is conducting the following field research activities:

  • Trapping and collaring black bears in the urban-wildland interface around Durango.

  • Tracking bear movements and feeding patterns using global position system (GPS) satellite collars.

  • Monitoring bear survival and reproduction using data from the GPS collars and by visiting winter dens of adult females.

  • Collecting data on the availability of summer and fall natural foods for bears, which largely includes nuts and berries from gambel oak, serviceberry, chokecherry, hawthorn, and pinon pine.

  • Employing non-invasive genetic surveys to estimate the bear density and population size around Durango and at a nearby wildland site.

  • Testing wide-scale urban use of bear-resistant garbage containers for their effectiveness in reducing bear-human conflicts.

  • Surveying the public on attitudes and perceptions related to bears, bear-human conflicts, bear management, and motivations to reduce interactions with bears.

This will be one the most comprehensive studies to date on black bear use of urban environments by clearly linking bear behavior to population trends, while also rigorously testing management techniques. This information will provide wildlife managers in Colorado and elsewhere strategies to reduce bear-human conflicts within urban environments.