House Bill would allow people to kill problem bears
House Bill 1221
The bill would allow residents to hunt so-called “problem bears” during the summer months if deemed necessary to protect public safety.
The House approved the bill Monday. It is now in the Senate
SUMMIT COUNTY – It will be only a matter of months before black bears come out of winter hibernation and raid trash cans and bird feeders in search of food.
But State Rep. Jim Snook, R-Alamosa, has an idea to alleviate encounters between bears and humans: His House Bill 1221 would allow people to obtain hunting permits to kill nuisance bears, defined as those that continually harass residents, forage in trash and even enter houses to obtain food.
The bill, which was approved in the House Monday, would allow the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) to issue permits from June 25 to Sept. 1.
Snook said the proposal would cover only problem bears, and would not create another hunting season. He said it would allow residents to help CDOW officials, who often don’t have the resources to respond to the numerous reports of bears.
“I think the division’s point of view is that we’d be in favor of anything that gives us increased flexibility,” said Dale Lashnits, CDOW’s chief of public information. “If it does pass, I’m fairly confident the division would be pretty restrictive in who is allowed to do this, and pretty demanding that people know what they’re doing. In some cases, these are urbanized areas, and we want to be sure whatever activities of wildlife management are undertaken safely.”
But division spokesman Todd Malmsbury said such a bill might not be of value to wildlife officers.
“What would really make a difference is if the communities restrict the feeding of wildlife,” he said. “People need to be responsible for their actions. Just don’t leave food out, and wildlife will keep away.”
Locally, bears have been sighted repeatedly in Wildernest near Silverthorne, Peak 7 northwest of Breckenridge and in Blue River. The bears have caused problems in the past several years as droughts stunted vegetation and berry growth, and late-spring freezes killed what has grown.
Last summer, bears were reported foraging in Dumpsters, breaking down garage doors to get to trash cans, stealing food from barbecues, ransacking kitchens and loitering in public places, including near Main Street and Wellington Road in Breckenridge.
Since then, Waste Management has offered bear-resistant trash cans to its customers, law enforcement officials have tried to educate the public about human and bear encounters, signs were erected warning people about the beasts and laws were passed requiring people to keep trash inside to discourage bears.
Former Blue River marshal Steve Ford said preventive measures worked well last year.
“As long as people follow the rules; keep their trash up and the bears will go elsewhere, plain and simple,” he said in September. “The few bears I’ve gotten calls on are just passing through the neighborhood.”
HB 1221 does not address just how people would hunt the problem bears. Boulder-area Sierra Club members said they envision people shooting bears in Dumpsters outside schools or out of backyard apple trees.
Although it is illegal to fire a gun in any Summit County town, it’s legal in the county as long as it’s fired in a safe manner and the bullet doesn’t leave a resident’s property, said Sheriff’s Capt. Derek Woodman.
“There’s a practicality aspect of it, though,” he said. “The ordinance was documented eons ago when people didn’t have a lot of neighbors. Certainly the safety aspect of it – and common sense – needs to come in play.”
Many wildlife officials agree, saying the increasing number of reports of bear and human conflicts is an educational challenge and not a bear problem.
“The bear population in the state has been pretty stable for the last 30 years,” Lashnits said. “What has changed is that folks have chosen to move out of town into rural and agricultural areas and the net result is increased conflicts. The other factor is the weather. You get drought conditions and you don’t get a berry crop … bears are omnivorous. They’re going to eat. And we’re pretty good source of food supplies. That’s what causes all the problems, when get bears associate humans with food.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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