Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with three black bears in a west Boulder neighborhood. As a volunteer for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, I work with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife on a project to help keep Colorado's urban bears from getting killed. Boulder is part of the urban-wildland interface and it is not uncommon for bears to wander from the nearby open space lands into Boulder neighborhoods in search of food, especially in the fall when they are consuming up to 20,000 calories a day before hibernating for the winter.
This situation is exacerbated by the fruit trees, bird feeders and trash cans in the neighborhoods which attract the hungry bears. One of our goals is to educate the neighbors about not leaving their trash and feeders outside or getting bear-prood trash cans. The problem is complicated by the fact that many of the residents are renters and that bear-proof trash cans are more expense thn regular ones. Additionally the trash disposal company charges more to pick-up those cans as they must leave their trucks to manually pick them up instead of using the automatic arms.
In addition to education, my job is to babysit the bears when they come into town. They generally retreat into trees to sleep during the day, being crepusular (more active during dusk and dawn). I try to keep them in the tree during the day where they will be safer as will the people, dogs and cats in the neighborhood. Having a volunteer quietly sitting in the area draws less attention than a DOW truck with uniformed officers with guns.
Three bears in a tree
Some assignments have been more eventful than others. When I sat in a cemetery, I attracted almost no attention. But I did have an interesting time trying to "push" the Mom and her two cubs into open space when she came down. I didn't want her to go further into the neighborhoods. I would get a bit too close to her and she would turn around and huff at me. I would back off and apologize. Then we would re -position and I would start chasing her again.
One time I was in Lyons and a two-year-old cub was in a tree next to a driveway. The entire neighborhood had turned out. Very young children were drivng their big wheels around in the driveway. I had to convince the moms that it was not Boo-Boo in the tree, especially when he decidid that he was coming down and there was nothing I could do to keep him up any longer. (The young ones-bears and kids-have less patience!)
I got all of the kids gathered behind me in the road towards town and told them that when he came down, we were going to chase him towands the hills. But they HAD to stay behind me and they were never to do this if I wasn't there. When he came down we started chasing the poor little guy, screaming "Go Home Bear". Occasionally he would veer off into someone's yard and I would hold up my group so we didn't get in front of him. Then he would come back out and we would be off again. When he was safely chased into the hills, I congratulated the kids for helping to save a bear. I hope that bear will never want to be near people again!
Unfortuately, not all of these assignments end well for the bears. I have been on two which ended in the bears being killed. DOW and OSMP take great efforts to avoid that result. In one situation, it was a young male bear who had gotten into a number of human encounters, including breaking into someone's home. Most of the bear problems are caused by people who aren't careful with their trash, bird feeders, pet food, etc. Unfortunately the bears pay the price.
The little cub that got away
The other time the bear lost her life was a mother bear who had been injured and lost the bottom half of her jaw. She was with her cub who got away when her mother was killed. It took several week to locate the cub and when he was found, it turned out hat he was old enough to make it on his own.