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Wendy Keefover-Ring

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Legislators: Scared of Bears

Posted: 04/12/11 04:11 PM ET

In 1992, 70% of Colorado voters passed Proposition 10, the citizen-led initiative that banned bear hunting in springtime. It also banned the use of dog packs that some used to chase down bears -- so they could be cornered and shot at a convenient distance.

Hunting mother bears in springtime orphans their cubs. Bear cubs depend on their mothers for about 17 months. In other words, if one shoots the mom, the shooter will also indirectly kill the babes -- likely all three of them.

Colorado legislators have signaled they'd like a bear slaughter. House Bill 11-1294 puts a bull's eye on female bears and their cubs, and crushes the will of 70% of Coloradoan voters. Simply put: this bill is bad for bears and voters.

Who would allow some hunters to hunt nursing mother bears and leave their cubs orphaned and starving?

Twenty Republicans -- led by J. Paul Brown -- and lone Democrat Wes "Cowboy" McKinley.

Seventy percent of Coloradans voted to protect mother bears and their cubs. Their voices will be relegated to the past if this bill passes.

House Bill 11-1294 alarmingly states that the Colorado's black bear population has "exploded" since 1992, according to "statistics."

Perhaps a little fact checking might be in order:

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has conducted two black bear studies. One occurred in the 1990s on the Uncompahgre Plateau, the second is ongoing in the Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen and Glenwood). Neither of these two studies provided baseline population information about Colorado's black bear population prior to 1992.

We also have no clue how many bears live in Colorado right now -- but it's fewer and fewer given the "exploding" human population and bear-hunting kills. So Brown's "exploding" bear population is simply alarmist myth.

Colorado Division of Wildlife statistics show that record numbers of bears have been killed in recent years.

In fact, hunters trebled the number of bears killed after Proposition 10 passed in 1992, and the DOW's Wildlife Commission passed a huge increase in bear quotas last year. From 1972 to 1992, bear hunters killed an average of 498 bears a year. After 1992, the black bears killed by hunters averages 608 per year -- and this is on top of other forms of mortality.

Right now, the bear-killing quota in Colorado is around 12,000 bears statewide -- a figure that is extremely high, too high in fact.

Furthermore, the idea that killing black bears will prevent human conflicts is not supported by biologists who study bears. People need to avoid attracting bears to their food sources in the first place, biologists say. Common sense precautions can ensure that people and bears can co-exist with each other.

Bears can be killed to the point where local populations are exterminated. No wildlife community can exist, unless humans will it. We have that awful power. Highly intelligent, curious, and opportunistic, black bears represent a symbol of our Western heritage. We must take care of them and avoid their extirpation.

Bears reproduce very slowly. A female typically does not breed until she is five.

Bears mate between June and early July. Although her eggs are fertilized in summer, her embryos will not implant until November to January, during slumber. If she is in poor condition from lack of calories or sickness, her body will reabsorb the fetuses to increase survival. Males emerge from the den in March or April and females with cubs emerge later in May.

If in good shape, a mother will give birth in late January, after three month's gestation, to approximately three cubs -- born the size of a mouse.

Cubs emerge from the den at about ten pounds. Weaned at seven months, cubs remain dependent on their mothers for approximately 17 months. Generally, the mother will not breed again for two years.

Bears breed slowly -- they require our special care, and bears are sensitive to all sources of mortality. Yet, most of that bear mortality, 80-90%, comes from sport hunters.

We must keep bears' protection in place (in fact bears need even greater protections) by letting the legislature know: spare the bears from politicians.

Common sense precautions can ensure that people and bears can co-exist with each other - download our bear aware brochure here.