Colorado has a bear problem. Pure and simple, we have too many bears, and it’s about to bite us in the butt. When I was a kid growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, my brother and I spent a lot of time in the woods. We were hiking, backpacking, exploring, hunting and climbing around all the time in the high country. Never once did we see a bear. I clearly recall the first time I ever saw a bear in the woods, and I was 31 years old, in 1993. Not too long after that, I took over the outfitting permits in Marble, Colorado, and I remember one day when I saw seven bears. Three of them were on my neighbor’s front porch.
We live on Grandview Mesa in Crawford, which is known for its hayfields and cattle ranches. It is certainly not prime bear habitat. My son Reed was in town, and he said to me, “Dad, did you put all the dogs in the kennel?” (Note — I raise Labrador retrievers.) “Yep,” I answered. “They’re all put away.” He pointed out to our horse pasture, where sure enough, three black critters were running around — a sow bear and her two cubs, which could have easily been mistaken for a black lab.
Ask any outdoorsman, and they’ll tell you that the bears are out of control. I recently happened upon an archery hunter up on Black Mesa, and we got to chatting about it. “They’re brazen as hell,” he said. “I’ve walked up on about 15 different bears this archery season. Two of them were practically underfoot. I mean, they got up a couple of feet away. They just stand there and look at you.” Another friend of mine arrowed a bull elk and was challenged by a bear as he walked up to the kill. The bear lost that encounter.
Many residents of mountain towns will tell you the same thing — bears are everywhere. I personally know three different people in Aspen who have had face-to-face bear encounters in their own homes. One of my friends was playing tug-of-war with a bear over his refrigerator door. He recently posted a video on Facebook showing a 400-pound boar walking around 20 feet from his back door at an apartment complex of perhaps 300 units. You know that bears like groceries, right? One of his neighbors, a 115-pound woman, responded that she runs like hell to get the groceries in the door when she comes home from the store.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife recently posted the results of a study that showed Colorado has more than double the number of bears than they, the masters of wildlife wisdom, thought we had. Well, no kidding, Sherlock. If you would actually get out from behind your desks and spend some time in the field, you’d know what we’ve been telling you all along. Despite the restriction on hunting methods, last year hunters harvested 1,500 bears in Colorado, with a significant number between 15 and 20 years old. Think of how many elk calves those bears ripped out of their beds.
Last year, CPW wardens relocated over 20 bears from the cornfields in Loma, Colorado. Loma! That’s about six miles from the Utah border, down at 4,500 feet in elevation. Hot, dry country that one could never consider as bear habitat. A sheep rancher friend reports to me that his herders shoot 35-40 bears every year as they try to rip into his flocks. A farmer in Delta, whose lands border city limits, told me that he shot seven bears in his cornfields last year with the blessing of CPW wardens.
I know three brothers in the North Fork Valley who are excellent hunters. They are masters at bagging trophy elk and mule deer. Last year, the trio hunted together and hunted hard for six days. The report? Six elk spotted. No kills. 42 bears. Think about that for a second. They spotted 42 bears in six days of hunting — and only six elk. At best, those numbers should be inverted.
Some of you who are casual observers might say, “So what? I like bears.” Okay, sure. So do I. But this is a warning sign, a signal of a crash. You cannot have such an over-abundance of predators without consequences. My friend the sheep rancher says that the pressure on his flocks is relentless — unless it’s the fawning season for mule deer or the calving season for elk. It’s a well-established fact that bears snack on fawns and elk calves like you snack on hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party.
I hear reports from all over Colorado that game numbers are down, while CPW is whistling past the graveyard. While many people think the ski industry is the biggest industry in Colorado, they’re wrong. Fishing and hunting, which exists without big power stations, clear-cut ski runs, big base area developments, and six-lane highways — is equally as important to Colorado’s economy.
How did this happen? In 1992, those on the Front Range sponsored an amendment to the Colorado Constitution to ban spring bear hunting, hunting over bait, and hunting bears with dogs. With traditional methods of bear hunting painted as cruel and sadistic, our bear numbers exploded to the point that it’s no longer news when a bear wanders through a suburban Denver neighborhood. Colorado Parks & Wildlife certainly wins no awards for proper management, when they are stunned to learn that the population was double what they thought.
So, you say, what’s next? Wolves. Yes, wolves. The same cadre that won the hearts and minds of all the Front Range liberal voters is aggressively pursuing wolf introduction to Colorado. They think they’re above it all, like some sort of elitist “master race.” From their IT jobs and high-rise cubicles, they’ll never personally suffer a loss, like a prized foal or 4-H calf ripped to shreds. They’ll never find their loyal cow dogs or Labradors torn apart. They actually LIKE the idea of a wolf pack tearing the hamstrings off of a prime bull elk, only to see it die a slow, horrible death. It seems that the goal is to see all our game animals ripped to shreds in some sort of biological horror movie, to the delight of ghoulish people who couldn’t survive three days without a comfy North Face sleeping bag and Clif bars. Those of us who live on elk meat and venison, well, forget you, they say. We’d rather enjoy the show.
Gary Hubbell writes about real estate, agriculture and politics. He is an accredited land consultant with United Country Colorado Brokers & Auctioneers. For more information, visit uccoloradobrokers.com.