CO: DOW Biologists start bear study in Durango
DURANGO, Colo. – The Colorado Division of Wildlife is starting a
five-year research project in the Durango area to learn more about
the local black bear population. This is the first study of its
kind in southwest Colorado and will be one of the most
comprehensive studies to date on bear-human conflicts.
The goals of the study are to develop a better understanding of how
bear populations use urban areas, determine how to reduce
bear-human conflicts and to improve techniques for estimating bear
numbers and population trends. The initial phase of the project is
Durango was selected for the study because it is surrounded by
high-quality bear habitat that is directly adjacent to urban
“Bear-human conflicts appear to be increasing in Colorado, but we
don’t know if that reflects an increasing bear population or just a
shift in bear behavior as they forage on human food sources
available in towns,” said lead researcher Heather Johnson. “We hope
to learn more about this as we examine the habitat-use patterns and
population dynamics of bears in Durango and the surrounding
While the study will take place in and around Durango, the results
should be relevant to other areas in Colorado that experience high
bear-human conflict rates, Johnson said.
Two primary techniques will be used to collect information on the
local bear population. During the first two years of the study,
researchers hope to fit 50 female bears with Global Positioning
System telemetry collars in order to track their movements.
Meanwhile, hair snare stations will collect genetic material from
bears, which will allow researchers to estimate population
Anyone who comes upon a trap or hair snare should leave the area
immediately. Traps are monitored closely by research staff.
Patt Dorsey, area wildlife manager in Durango, said the study is an
important effort to learn more about bears and to reduce
“The Division works really hard at managing black bears in and
around Durango,” Dorsey said. “We are looking forward to having
more and better information to help us do our job. Bears are
incredible animals that live here because of the good
The Durango study follows up on an urban bear study that recently
concluded in the Aspen and Glenwood Springs area. That study
offered new insights on urban bear movement and interaction, which
set the stage for the current research. Researchers decided not to
conduct the current study in the Aspen area because local trash
ordinances and bear management actions would make it difficult to
address the study objectives. The Durango area provides the
necessary flexibility to build on the findings of the earlier
Durango residents are encouraged to continue reporting bear
encounters during the study period. Quick and accurate reporting
leads to more successful conflict resolution. To report a conflict,
such as bears knocking over trash or damaging property, please call
the Division of Wildlife office in Durango at (970) 247-0855.
The City of Durango enforces a wildlife ordinance that prohibits
residents from attracting bears and other wildlife with garbage. To
report ordinance violations, city residents should call code
enforcement at: (970) 375-4930.
The San Juan National Forest is supportive of the research and is
helping to coordinate logistics. Visitors to National Forest lands
near Durango may see Division of Wildlife employees operating
clearly marked ATVs or pickup trucks on routes that are closed to
public motorized use. This use is approved by the Forest Service.
If forest visitors see other motor vehicles being operated
illegally on closed routes in the San Juan National Forest, they
should call the Durango Public Lands Center at (970) 247-4874,
Columbine Public Lands Center (970) 884-2512, or the Pagosa Public
Lands Center (970) 264-2268.
Other organizations collaborating on the study include Colorado
State University, the National Wildlife Research Center, Bear Trust
International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Twin Buttes of
Durango, a local development company, has contributed money to
purchase two telemetry collars.
To learn more about how to avoid conflicts with bears, visit the
Division’s web page at:
For more information about Division of Wildlife go to: