Colorado wildlife officials and experts are concerned about future human-to-bear conflicts because of conflicting weather patterns.
According to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release, a bear’s diet is dominated by native crops available to them. In Colorado, a bear’s diet consists mainly of a mixture of berries such as raspberries and chokecherries, fruits such as plums and rose hips, nuts such as acorns and a variety of other plants depending on the location.
However, if a bear’s access to food is diminished because of dry weather or late winter storms, they will relocate to a place that can provide them with enough calories to last them throughout the winter hibernation. For example, in 2017 there were two subfreezing storms from May 17-19. This delayed how the crops matured that year. As a result, Colorado Parks and Wildlife had to relocate 109 bruins and euthanize 190 more, according to the agency’s news release.
“When natural food sources are scarce, as the smart flexible eaters that bears are, they tend to spend more time near humans. Our communities tend to be closer to riparian systems that offer a wetter environment of natural foods, in addition to the offerings of human food sources that exist when we don’t properly secure our trash and other attractants.” Mark Vieira said in the CPW news release.
In the fall, bears will experience hyperphagia, meaning they will try to consume about 20,000 calories a day, according to the news release. Bears rely heavily on acorns to meet this goal. Wildlife officers from Western Douglas County have conducted a survey on how the oak crops would react to the storms that happened in May. They discovered that flowers and other crops will not survive in temperatures of 28 and below. Also, Gamble oak found in elevations 6,800 and above cannot survive, however, chokecherries and plums can.
“We’ll be OK for a short time, but in the 7-8 years I’ve been in my district I’ve never seen an oak die-off like this,” Melanie Kaknes said in the news release. “The bears will have to figure something out because they have to put weight on for the winter. This die-off is going to be pushing bears down in elevation and likely into town.”
In Boulder and other northern areas, the wildlife survive off berries such as chokecherries, raspberries, rose hips and a variety of other fruits, according to the news release. Wildlife Officer Joe Padia said he is concerned that this year’s climate will cause more human-to-bear conflict.
“I am concerned that the freeze will affect the fruit crop,” Padia said in the news release. “Drought followed by missing fall forage could make for an extended conflict season.”
Adult bears know how to survive the winter even when they are experiencing a food shortage. They do not need additional help, however, “individuals need to take responsibility and follow proper guidelines on living appropriately with bears. A concentrated effort needs to be made this summer and fall to remove attractants available to bears so we do not experience increased conflicts,” according to the release.