Or so say researchers with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department, who are conducting an ongoing study of local black bears. The researchers have been tracking Colorado bears for six years, and so far they’ve observed that humans have both a positive and negative effect on the ursine population.
Bears that eat human food, mostly out of trash cans, actually have much higher reproductive rates than those living away from humans. At the same time, those young bear cubs are also less likely to survive when they’re raised near urban locations like Denver.
“There’s a lot more risks for a little bear in town,” said wildlife researcher Heather Johnson, who told the Durango Herald that “these cubs can get run over, separated from their mothers or electrocuted climbing power poles.”
Bears have a sense of smell seven times stronger than dogs and can smell food odors from more than one mile away. Because of this, bears often wander into cities when food is scarce, even here in Denver.
In August 2015 the Denver Post reported on the unusual number of black bears “getting into their usual mischief — breaking into vehicles, bashing beehives and raiding chicken coops” in and around the Denver area. During the summer, bears consume up to 20,000 calories every day in preparation for hibernation season, and the strong smells coming from outdoor human activity can be irresistible.
“Since the second week of July, things went crazy,” said Jennifer Churchill, a spokesperson for Colorado Parks and Wildlife said at the time. “We are definitely seeing bears in places we don’t typically see them.”
Last summer, reports to Denver police of errant bears “went through the roof,” including one particularly mischievous bear spotted near the University of Denver.
“It’s hard to chase black bears in the dark,” Churchill said. “He would qualify as a nuisance bear — not to pass a value judgment on him.”
When warmer temperatures finally do return to the Denver area, it’s likely there will be another uptick in bear sightings, for better or worse.