Officials grapple with human/wildlife conflicts | PostIndependent.com
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Officials grapple with human/wildlife conflicts

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – No amount of prevention can eliminate the risk of bears and mountain lions injuring or even killing humans who live in their midst, a Colorado carnivore expert says.”If we’re going to have bears and lions in Colorado or any of your states, it will happen,” he told wildlife managers from across North America Wednesday during the annual meeting of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.Faced with that knowledge, wildlife officials discussed what they can do to keep human/wildlife conflicts to a minimum, and how they can work with media to help educate the public on an ongoing basis and communicate key messages when conflicts occur.Attacks by bear, and especially by lions, which tend to be highly reclusive, are extremely rare in Colorado. Yet people’s fears aren’t entirely misplaced. Apker was among the DOW officials who responded when a mountain lion killed a teenager in Idaho Springs in 1991.He said people tend to be more concerned about lions than bears, and for some understandable reasons. Bear conflicts and attacks tend to be predictable, and often are a result of human behavior.”With lions it’s not that way and … people have this huge sense of insecurity about their world,” he said.Lions attack suddenly and by surprise, and human actions have little to do with it, Apker said.”Lions, if you’re going to have them as a part of your landscape, there’s a risk,” he said.Apker believes the public has moved beyond the question of whether animals such as lions and bears are going to exist in places such as Colorado. Indeed, a recent poll in Colorado found widespread support for keeping lions here.Tim Holeman, chief of public affairs for the DOW, said the poll found most people consider lightning, falling and getting lost to be bigger threats than a mountain lion attack when they’re in the Colorado outdoors.”People generally, while maybe they’re insecure, still don’t see it as a direct threat,” he said.Both lion and bear encounters have increased in recent years in places such as the Roaring Fork Valley, creating safety concerns for some residents. But bears have paid a far greater price than humans when serious conflicts have arisen, with some of the animals having to be destroyed.Kelly Wood, a district wildlife manager for the DOW and formerly an animal control officer in Snowmass Village, said authorities used to trap and kill bears in secret, out of fear over how people would react if they found out. But then the DOW decided to go public when a mother bear had to be killed and one of its two cubs died during trapping.”There was a public outcry, unbelievable, they actually had candlelight vigils for the bears, but it got the public involved,” she said.Wood helped Snowmass residents realize that the town had a trash problem, and their actions were resulting in bears being killed. Eventually the town passed an ordinance to address its problem, and now residents who want to protect bears will even report a neighbor who offends the ordinance, she said.The national nature of Wednesday’s conference served as a reminder that Colorado isn’t alone in facing the challenge of living with wildlife. Officials from California to Texas and Nova Scotia to New Jersey said they’re dealing with it as well.Yes, even New Jersey. Dave Chanda, acting director of that state’s Department of Wildlife, said New Jersey’s bear numbers, once 50 or less, have rebounded with the agency’s help, and now top 3,000.”We’re struggling with our own successes here and the black bear is a perfect example of that,” he said.Widespread public resistance has resulted in the state only intermittently being able to allow bear hunts to control the animal’s numbers, he said. Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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