Study aims to shed light on black bear behavior |

Study aims to shed light on black bear behavior

John GardnerGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo by Sharon Baruch-Mordo, CSU The collar on this bear enables researchers to track it as it moves around the area.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. It’s been a rough year for black bears in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has been forced to kill more than five this summer from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, said Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) spokesman Randy Hampton.By researching urban black bear activity and behavior, specifically in and around Glenwood Springs and Aspen, Sharon Baruch-Mordo is hoping to reduce that number in future years.”The urban (black bear) issue is becoming more prevalent. Bear and human interactions are increasing, and it’s becoming more of a problem,” Baruch-Mordo said. “By understanding what they are doing in town and what they are going after, then we can determine a better way to manage the problem.”Baruch-Mordo is a doctorate graduate research assistant of ecology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Over the past three years she’s participated in the five-year study on black bears in the Roaring Fork Valley.”There is still a lot to learn,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot about the system we use to track the bears and a lot about the bears’ behavior, too, but we are still learning.”Data is collected by Global Positioning System (GPS) collars attached to the black bears that transmit data every 30 minutes and allows researchers like Baruch-Mordo to track specific details. For instance, what the bears are coming to town for, how often they are coming into town and whether they are focusing on a specific area, and overall movement and what area the bears cover. The project is still in the preliminary stages of collecting data, and much more work has to be done before any accurate behavior patterns can be determined, Baruch-Mordo said. But she has seen atypical behavior patterns thus far.

“It’s hard to tell before all the data is collected,” she said. “But we have seen more activity in town this year because of the lack of natural food selection.”Other preliminary data showed bears traveling greater distances in the early spring, while typically, they tend to travel farther in the fall when they are preparing for hibernation, and that they have become more nocturnal animals as well.”Bears are typically active during the early morning and late afternoon hours,” she said. “The idea is that we are changing them to become more nocturnal because they are waiting until night, when people are less active, to come into town for alternative food sources.”Baruch-Mordo attributes a lack of natural food source, like Gambel oak and serviceberries this year to increased bear activity in the area. The hot summer and late spring frost are contributing factors to the decreased natural food source.One of the bears Baruch-Mordo was tracking in the Glenwood area had to be killed when it returned to the area after being relocated in mid-June. Apparently some people were feeding and petting the bear when it returned, which prompted the DOW to kill the bear.The DOW policy specifies that if a tagged bear gets into trouble a second time, it will be killed.”As much as we hate to destroy a bear that is part of the study, it doesn’t supersede the DOW’s black bear policy on ‘nuisance’ bears,” Hampton said. “We don’t want to take risks. Our history shows bears that are habituated with trash are typically the ones to become more aggressive toward humans.”But that is exactly what the DOW hopes to get from the study.

“It’s a great study, and we are really anxious to see some of the data coming back,” Hampton said.Hampton said that the DOW has a “great deal” of knowledge on black bear biology, but very little research has been done on urban black bear behavior to date.”It’s cutting edge stuff,” Hampton said. “We are already learning a lot on the preliminary information coming in.”The study is an important step for DOW officers in understanding bear behavior.”We may haze a bear to get it out of the area,” Hampton said. “But how far does it go? How long does it stay away? These are the questions that are hard to answer, and the study will help us answer them.”Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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