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Colorado residents urged to get bear smart

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Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 12:36 PM

In response to recent bear conflicts in Colorado, including close encounters, home invasions and an attack on a camper in Boulder County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife urges residents to get educated and work to prevent human-wildlife conflicts.

Although the bear population in the state is estimated to be from 17,000 to 20,000, in contrast to a human population of about 5.5 million, wildlife officials stress human-bear conflicts as a primary concern. Most bear conflicts can be attributed to a lack of wildlife knowledge or a blatant disregard for preventative rules and basic cautionary measures.

"Bears are just doing what comes naturally to them," Perry Will, Glenwood Springs wildlife manager, said in a news release. "They are driven by hunger and instinct and, when their natural food sources become scarce like we've seen with the recent dry spell in some areas, they look for other sources. That brings them into communities where they easily find all kinds of things to eat. Humans on the other hand have a choice in how they behave."

Interactions continue to occur and appear in headlines even after years of information, education-outreach efforts, trash-storage ordinances in communities with high rates of bear activity and efforts to reduce bear populations in conflict areas.

Above all else, wildlife managers stress that the public should keep food away from bears and never feed a bear. Feeding bears is illegal in Colorado, and will essentially sentence the animal to death in the long run. Bears have excellent memories and will remember where trash is consistently left out, cars that have food in them, bird-feeders that are within reach and people who feed bears.

CPW also urges people to never allow a bear to feel comfortable or think it's safe to be around humans. When a bear is in a human-occupied space, wildlife officers advise people immediately try to make it feel unwelcome. People should talk loudly, bang pots and pans, throw rocks or sticks, etc., and attempt to drive the animal away.

If a bear does not respond to hazing or continues to approach, never turn and run. People should stand their ground and prepare to defend themselves at all costs. If a bear attacks, dispense bear spray into the eyes and snout, punch and kick as aggressively as possible, use nearby rocks, branches, dirt, keys or other objects that can be used as weapons, and assault the animal's most sensitive areas, such as eyes, snout, nostrils, ears and genitals.

Recognize that bears, when caused pain, perceive the defense as a threat, and will either flee the area or continue the attack. Do not, under any circumstance, give up or submit to the bear, and fight back by any means.

Although black bears in Colorado rarely attack people and eat mostly acorns and berries, with an occasional meal of carrion, fawns or elk calves, certain situations will cause them to maul and kill.

"The major concern is when a person surprises a bear, or if a person makes a bear feel threatened or cornered, it will likely respond forcefully," Riggs said.

CPW recommends bear spray, rather than firearms, as a first means of defense. It's always wise to carry bear spray in areas known for high bear activity and residents who live in bear country should keep some at home.

"We understand people have the right to legally carry and use a firearm to defend themselves from a bear attack, but it's not as effective as people think, and if you shoot your gun in a residential area or a crowded campsite you could accidentally kill someone. Bear spray is actually a much more effective deterrent, proven in several field studies," Dean Riggs, northwest regional manager, said.

The public should view bears with binoculars or a camera from a safe distance. It is never appropriate to try and get closer or interact with the animal in any way.

For more information, visit the CPW "Bear Aware" page at www.cpw.state.co.us or Bear Smart Durango at www.bearsmartdurango.org.

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