Bear activity in the Denver metro area picks up as winter approaches

Map showing where bear activity has been reported at in the Denver metro area from Sept. 1-Oct. 14

DENVER – Colorado Parks and Wildlife is seeing an increase in bear activity in the Denver metro area over the last month-and-a-half, particularly on the southwest corridor. This activity is not uncommon or new to the densely populated Front Range, but CPW would like to take this opportunity to educate city residents on bear activity and to answer some frequently asked questions.

Last Friday night, Oct. 8, CPW wildlife officers relocated a bear out of the 2400 block of South Jackson Street in Denver. That is not the first time a bear has been relocated from the city proper, as wildlife officer Jerrie McKee will explain in our question and answer session below.

The map at the top of the article shows bear activity in the Denver metro area since Sept. 1. Sighting reports are picking up after being relatively quiet, at least compared to a normal year, from springtime through August. The increased activity is to be expected, as bears are in hyperphagia, the fall period when bruins are preparing for hibernation and spend up to 20 hours a day on the hunt for 20,000 or more daily calories.

“Bears can show up in unusual locations, and generate lots of calls to our offices, at any time of year but especially in the fall as untapped food sources become more appealing,” said CPW Northeast Region Manager Mark Leslie. “We evaluate every call based on the location and behavior of a bear and will relocate or remove bears when appropriate and feasible.

“When we move one, there are very few places on the Front Range of Colorado that will not put them in contact with humans or the potential for conflict.”

As bear populations increase beyond what the natural landscape could support, we would expect them to exploit new food sources such as ones they may find in the city. Bears in urban areas are difficult to manage because there are not a lot of natural population checks, so sometimes they end up being managed by cars and conflicts.

Learn more, visit us online for information on being “Bear Aware”

How to get in contact with CPW:
Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – call our Denver office at 303-291-7227
Outside of normal business hours: If there is an urgent wildlife matter that needs addressing, call Colorado State Patrol at 303-239-4501. They will relay your call on to a wildlife officer. We have wildlife officers on-call 24/7/365.

In this Q&A we discuss the various circumstances of bear activity in the city with Mckee, a veteran wildlife officer of 20-plus years who works on the west side of the Denver metro area.

Q: What makes a bear want to venture into a densely populated area like the Denver metro area?
A: “I don’t think most bears want to venture into any heavily developed area, including Denver. However, sometimes biological and/or environmental factors cause them to do so. A biological factor could include a young bear dispersing in search of establishing a territory or an environmental factor could include things such as loss of traditional forage areas or food failures that cause bears to search elsewhere to fulfill their caloric need. Urban areas tend to be rich in food resources including unsecured trash cans, birdfeeders, pet food, fruit trees, gardens, etc. These attractants may then cause bears to remain in an undesirable location.”

Q: How do bears make their way so far into town?
A: “Bears often follow major drainages or corridors, which tend to provide food sources and good cover. These could include areas such as the South Platte River, Clear Creek, the High Line Canal, etc. It is easy for a bear to follow these natural areas, which may lead them right into the middle of the city.”

Q: What do wildlife officers do when a bear is reported in a city?
A: “Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) logs bear reports that are called-in, or otherwise reported to our office. Oftentimes, the call is regarding a sighting and the bear is no longer there. Staff provides information to the caller, which typically includes information about removing attractants and bear safety. Depending on the location, and how long the bear has been in the area, educational messages may also be provided to the community via various social media sites or in conjunction with other local partners and managing agencies. Oftentimes, CPW simply educates people and monitors the bear until it finds its way out of the city. Bears have been successful at finding their way back out of urban areas without any intervention at all.

If CPW receives a call that a bear is up a tree, that provides the best opportunity for CPW officers to respond, evaluate the situation, and then tranquilize and relocate the bear if warranted.

CPW does not typically respond to a bear that is on the move. Trying to locate and contain bears in this situation is extremely challenging. This requires a large officer presence, and creates a greater risk for injury to the bear and public safety. In addition, a bear on the move metabolizes drugs much quicker, making it much more difficult to immobilize the animal safely and effectively.”

Q: What would it take for CPW to relocate a bear (speaking on the differences between a bruin in bear country, such as Evergreen, versus a bear in the city, such as Denver)?
A: “We expect bears to be in bear country. When CPW receives calls of bears in appropriate bear habitat, we educate the caller about how to remove attractants (trash cans and birdfeeders are the biggest culprits), secure property (including keeping garage doors closed and shutting lower level windows), and how to haze the bear away (which can include yelling, activating a car alarm, etc). Typically, CPW does not relocate bears out of bear country. We focus on educating the community on how to minimize conflicts with their local bear(s) and encourage them to actively coexist. In situations where a bear is removed from bear country, that simply opens up that territory and another bear moves in. The cycle simply continues. Educating the public on how to be bear aware, and getting active participation from that community, is the best way to minimize conflicts.

When a bear is in the city, or other undesirable location, CPW will typically monitor until a situation presents itself that the bear can be tranquilized and moved. The most desirable situation is a treed bear.”

Q: What are the difficulties faced or safety hazards you keep in mind when responding to a bear in the city?
A: “If a bear is still on the ground and is being pursued, it can quickly become unpredictable and defensive. A bear on the move can cause injury to itself, people, pets and personal property. Bears can run directly into people or into traffic. Crowds of people can quickly gather creating an even more challenging and dangerous situation.

A treed bear reduces so many of the safety variables.”

Q: Is this kind of activity in the city normal, or have bear sightings in the Denver metro area increased in recent years?
A: “In general, wildlife conflicts of every kind are on the rise. We have more people, more development and less habitat for wildlife every year. With that said, some years are worse than others when it comes to bears in the city. Acorn production, which is a main caloric food source this time of year for bears, is relatively sparse along the Denver Front Range right now. This can definitely push more bears into the city. The last couple weeks have brought several bears into undesirable locations. Many of these bears are continuing to move and may make their way out on their own. Others are getting relocated when the conditions are right to do so.”

Q: What do people need to keep in mind when it comes to bears in the metro area?
A: “It’s not uncommon. Colorado is blessed with an abundance of wildlife, including bears; one could turn up in your backyard or neighborhood at some point. We would encourage individuals to remind themselves, and teach children, to be SMART if they do encounter a bear, or other predator:

S – Stop. Do not Run!
M – Make yourself look big.
A – Announce something firmly to the bear such as “Leave me Alone!”
R – Retreat by continuing to face the bear while backing away slowly.
T – Tell an adult or local authority of your encounter.

There is occasional frustration when bears are sighted in town and are not relocated immediately. Although CPW is empathetic to citizens’ concerns, it is important to know that we do our best to monitor and evaluate every situation. Some of these bears, CPW would not relocate because they are in areas we expect bears to be. CPW will monitor the bears, educate the public and leave the bears alone. Other bears may be in undesirable locations, but are on the move which makes capturing and relocating virtually impossible until the point where the bear trees. When conditions are right, CPW will attempt to remove these bears while keeping public safety, and the safety of the bears, in mind. They are wild animals. They go where they want to go and we are not always successful in removing them.”

Q: Have bears been in Denver before?
A: “Yes. Bears have virtually turned up in every major city in the Denver metro area at some point. Over the summer and fall of 2001, Colorado was experiencing significant drought conditions. Bear forage was poor across the state. That year, CPW officers tranquilized at least 12 bears that had come into the Denver metro area. Many more moved through town that were never handled. A few that come to mind was a bear captured near Empower Field at Mile High (then called the Mile High Stadium) and one which was tranquilized under the roller coaster at Lakeside Amusement Park.”

Q: What should people do if they live in the city and get an alert that a bear is in their neighborhood currently?
A: “Stay calm. Secure pets inside and remove attractants from your yard including trash and birdfeeders. If you go outside, keep children close and be aware. If you see a bear, be SMART (see above), and please do not pursue it. Contact CPW, your local law enforcement agency, or the Colorado State Patrol at 303-239-4501.”