Colorado once had grizzlies, but officially has only one type of bear: the American Black Bear (Ursus americanas). There are approximately 10,000-12,000 of them in the state. Black is a species, not a color, and in Colorado many black bears are blonde, cinnamon or brown.Colorado once had grizzlies, but officially has only one type of bear: the American Black Bear (Ursus americanas). There are approximately 10,000-12,000 of them in the state. Black is a species, not a color, and in Colorado many black bears are blonde, cinnamon or brown.
Habitat: Black bears like montane shrublands and forests, and subalpine forests at moderate elevations.
Diet: Over 90 percent of a black bear’s diet is grasses, berries, fruits, nuts, and plants. The rest is primarily insects and scavenged carcasses. Bears are omnivorous and the diet depends largely on what kinds of food are seasonally available, although their mainstay is vegetation. In spring, emerging grasses and succulent forbs are favored. In summer and early fall, bears take advantage of a variety of berries and other fruits. In late fall, preferences are for berries and mast (acorns), where available. When the opportunity is present, black bears eat a diversity of insects, including beetle larvae and social insects (ants, wasps, bees, termites, etc.), and they kill a variety of mammals, including rodents, rabbits, and young or unwary ungulates.
Description: A medium-sized bear, this species is Colorado’s largest surviving carnivore. Color varies greatly, from black to pale brown or (rarely) even blond. In a Coloradan population, 83 percent of bears of both sexes were brown, not unusual for black bears in mountainous regions of the West. Considerable seasonal color change occurs as a result of bleaching and fading of the pelage. Sub-adults may change color with age, usually going from brown to black, although the reverse also occurs. In southwestern Colorado, 90 percent of black bears are actually some shade of brown. They may be black, cinnamon, reddish, brown, or blonde. A white chest blaze is not uncommon for Coloradan animals. The muzzle is typically pale brownish yellow.
Size: Black bears average 3 feet tall when standing on all four feet. Males average 275 pounds and females 175 pounds.
Life span: Black bears live 20-25 years in the wild.
Attributes: Black bears hibernate around early November and emerge from dens around early May. On average, two cubs are born in the den in late January. Bears aren’t naturally nocturnal, but sometimes travel at night in hopes of avoiding humans.
Range in Colorado: Black bears are locally common in suitable habitats in the western two-thirds of the state. Highest population densities occur in the montane shrublands from Walsenburg and Trinidad west to the San Luis Valley, in the San Juan Mountains, and in the canyon country of west-central Colorado.
Did you know? Grizzlies once were here too…
While grizzlies were all gone from northern Colorado by the 1920s, viable populations were still present in the southern part of the state until much later.
In 1952, a government trapper named Lloyd Anderson — who had already legally killed at least seven grizzlies and an estimated 500 black bears — killed a sow in this area. This sow was later deemed the last grizzly in Colorado, and wildlife officials declared the grizzly extinct statewide. Around the same time, the state of Colorado protected grizzlies — meaning that, ironically enough, by the time the grizzly bear was declared endangered, it was too late.
Most people believed that the law was moot anyway — there weren’t any grizzlies left to protect. But then, in 1979, something incredible happened: a hunting outfitter named Ed Wiseman, who was bow hunting for elk, killed an old female grizzly in the south San Juans. This was 27 years after they’d been declared extinct.
The “Wiseman Bear,” as it is commonly called, has been the last confirmed sighting of a grizzly on Colorado. Her skull and hide are now in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Basic Bear Smarts
It’s good to know —or be reminded of — the basic ways to be smart around our Colorado bears. Many communities in bear country have ordinances regarding trash storage that apply to wildlife, but even if the community hasn’t made it official, here are good rules when in bear country:
• Never intentionally feed bears.
• Keep garbage in a secure building or a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.
• If you don’t have a place to store garbage, ask the trash company for a bear-resistant container or order one.
• Place smelly food scraps in the freezer until garbage day.
• Rinse out all cans, bottles and jars so that they are free of food and odors before putting them out for recycling or trash pick-up.
• Put out garbage cans only on the morning of pick-up. Do not put out garbage the night before.
• Wash garbage cans regularly with ammonia to eliminate food odors.
• Don’t leave pet food or pet dishes outside. Store food in an odor-free container.
• Use bird feeders only from November until the end of March when bears are hibernating. Bird feeders are a major cause of wildlife conflicts. Small mammals, deer and mountain lions can also be attracted to them. Birds do not need to be fed during the summer. That is a good time to attract birds naturally by hanging flower baskets, putting out a bird bath or planting a variety of flowers.
• Pick ripe fruit from trees and off the ground.
• Clean outdoor grills after each use; the smell of grease can attract bears.
• Close and lock lower floor windows and doors of your house.
• Clean up thoroughly after outdoor parties.
• Don’t leave food in your car, lock car doors. Bears are smart and many have learned to open car doors.
• When camping, store food and garbage inside a locked vehicle. Keep the campsite clean. Don’t eat in the tent. In the backcountry, hang your food at least 10 feet high and 10 feet away from anything a bear can climb.
Bears are not naturally aggressive toward people and prefer to avoid contact. If you see a bear in your area, make it feel unwelcome. Yell at it; throw sticks and rocks at it. Never approach a bear.
Wright, Kevin Kevin.Wright@state.co.us
Bryan Peterson, Bear Smart Durango, www.bearsmartdurango.org
Maril Hazlett, www.climateandenergy.org