Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are revamping bear management plans for Southwest Colorado, and turning to members of the public for input on the process.
Wildlife managers are reworking plans for ursine populations in Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and San Miguel counties in an effort to provide better management for the ubiquitous mountain creatures.
A lot of the bear management plans are old and havent been updated in a while, said parks and wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Patt Dorsey. It was time to update those plans and look at our approach to bear management.
Dorsey said any time parks and wildlife officials work on new management plans, they strive to gather as much public comment as possible, in an effort to engage the public in decisions that impact public lands.
Whenever we update management plans and set objectives for management, we like to involve the public, Dorsey said. We are trying to manage something that has different facets. One component is biological, but others are social and economical. We want to know what the people want. It is important to us and we know what we think the public wants, but sometimes the public surprises us.
Toward that end, officials are seeking public comments on human-bear conflict, bear interactions with urban populations, hunter input on license numbers and anecdotal data on numbers and population growth or decline.
As opposed to deer and elk populations, wildlife managers are still trying to put together a comprehensive picture of the health, and density, of the bear population in Southwest Colorado.
In the case of bears, they are a little bit harder to manage than elk and deer, Dorsey said. You cant get in a helicopter and see the herd and know how many are male and female. There is a lot we dont know right now and we are trying to use better tools in our management to evaluate what our populations are doing.
One tool wildlife managers have utilized since 2006 is the collection of teeth from harvested bears each year. Hunters who harvest a bear must submit to mandatory checks at parks and wildlife offices. During such checks, a tooth is collected from the ursine, allowing researchers to gather information on the average age of bears harvested during a given hunting year.
Prior to having that tooth data, we didnt really know how many mature bears versus really old versus young were being taken each year, Dorsey said. That has given us a much better idea of our populations.
In addition to gathering data from teeth, wildlife managers have also begun a DNA data collection study that will allow for even more precise measurement of bear populations.
Hair snares have been set in forest locations to collect hair from a variety of bears. The hair is then sent to a lab for DNA analysis.
The DNA sampling allows us to differentiate between bears that are known to us and bears we didnt know about, Dorsey said. We are then able to estimate the population based on percentage of known to unknown.
Officials plan to continue collecting hair samples for three to four more years, allowing for the collection of a substantial data set.
Hopefully we are moving toward a more scientific approach for bear management, Dorsey said. Weve got an estimate for the bear population statewide, but unit by unit we dont have a population estimate. We are moving toward having a better idea and we are utilizing more tools that will give us a better idea of the bears in the local area.
Parks and wildlife utilized web-based surveys to gather initial information from the public on bear management in the area. Once the surveys are collected, management plans will go out to the public for a second round of commenting. Dorsey also said if there is enough interest in the management plan, officials may schedule a public meeting to discuss the new plans.
For more information, contact Brad Weinmeister at 970-375-6714.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]