Bears in dens to be off-limits to Colorado hunters

By Colorado Division of Wildlife
Real AspenJanuary 6, 2011

The Colorado Wildlife Commission has directed the Division of Wildlife to draft a regulation that would prohibit the hunting of bears in their dens.

Commissioners were asked to consider adopting a regulation following an incident in the fall in which a hunter near Craig said he tracked a large black bear to a cave, entered the cave and killed the bear. Colorado hunting regulations currently do not prohibit hunting a bear in a den.

A Colorado black bear.

Regulations manager Brett Ackerman told the Commission on Wednesday that den-hunting is apparently not common among bear hunters. However, he said the DOW monitors issues which Colorado citizens may find do not meet public expectations of fair chase and this incident has provoked significant negative public feedback. Ackerman said numerous other states have banned den-hunting on the grounds that it does not meet public expectations of fair chase.

Commission Chairman Tim Glenn said the Wildlife Commission considers regulations regarding hunting ethics on a case-by-case basis.

"This is a perfect example of the kind of issue that the Wildlife Commission needs to look at," Glenn said. "We talked about the importance of fair chase for maintaining public trust in what we do. That is absolutely critical, so for what it's worth, I certainly think we do need to address this issue."

Several commissioners wondered if the issue could be addressed by closing bear hunting seasons earlier, before bears would be expected to enter hibernation. But others noted that weather, elevation and geography all factor in to the timing of bear denning, which varies across the state. As a result, the Commission directed staff to draft a regulation specifically aimed at prohibiting den-hunting.

Division of Wildlife staff will present a draft regulation for consideration by the Wildlife Commission at its March meeting in Denver. Commissioners could approve it in May.

The commissioners have approved the control of coyotes and other mammalian predators that are threatening to wipe out an important population of Gunnison sage-grouse that is centered on the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area. This fall, the Gunnison sage-grouse was designated a candidate for the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A bear and its cubs in a den.

Evidence collected by the Division of Wildlife showed that 75 percent of sage-grouse nests in the area failed and no young survived to adulthood. In addition, biologists recovered radio transmitters researchers placed on sage-grouse chicks inside coyote scat.

Commissioners approved the division's plan to control coyotes and other nest predators for five months a year, for two years. Division biologists will monitor the impact of the program to determine if sage-grouse production increases.

"This is a difficult issue, one of the most contentious issues across the West," Remington said. "Colorado has a very high bar for when the Commission or Division recommends any kind of predator control. We don’t bring this lightly at all."

The commission also gave Division of Wildlife biologists authority to kill individual mountain lions if they begin to prey on a small band of desert bighorn sheep relocated to the Middle Dolores Canyon in mid-December.

This is the third time the Division of Wildlife has attempted to establish desert bighorn in the area. Two other attempts, in 1990 and 2001, did not result in the establishment of a new herd. Biologists believe that mountain lion predation played a primary role in the outcome.

Commissioners said that if a mountain lion kills more than one sheep, it should be removed. If a lion kills only one sheep, biologists would have the option to remove it. There has been no known mortality among the radio-collared sheep since their release three weeks ago.

The complete agenda for the January Wildlife Commission meeting can be found on the Division of Wildlife's web page at:

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor.

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