By IVAN MORENO | Associated Press
DENVER (AP) — Colorado's black bear population is booming, and state lawmakers are grappling with what to do to reduce conflicts between humans and the animals.
On Monday, the sponsor of a bill to add August to the state's bear-hunting season as a way to control the animals' population asked lawmakers to delay voting on his proposal so he can address concerns raised about the bill.
Those concerns include whether liquid scent can be used to bait the bears, and if there should be a more specific hunt targeting problem bears in urban areas, instead of a having a general hunt.
“We want to hear them out and try to address their concerns,” said Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Delta. He said he plans to come back with another proposal in about a month.
But Willett says the bear population is a problem that needs to be addressed. He recounted to colleagues stories from constituents on Colorado's Western Slope about bears getting into barns and sheds. He said friends on mountain bikes have been chased by bears, and he has noticed more bears himself.
Colorado's Parks and Wildlife division said the state's estimated bear population is 19,000. That's up from about 12,000 in the early 2000s.
Bear hunting is allowed from Sept. 2 through mid-November. That's because a 1992 voter-approved initiative prohibits hunting bears from March 1 to Sept. 1. That initiative also banned hunting bears with dogs and baiting bears with food to kill them.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative amid concern that female bears were being hunted in the spring, when they are taking care of their cubs.
Wendy Keefover, testifying on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States, said there should be a bigger focus on educating people about how to reduce bear conflicts, including emphasizing proper trash disposal.
“Hunting bears does not alleviate human-bear conflicts,” he said. “That's because the trophy hunters are targeting bears in the forest, not the problem bears.”
Hunters harvest about 1,000 black bears annually, according to Colorado's Parks and Wildlife division.
Willett said it's possible to find a compromise on a difficult issue.
“This is a little bigger than first meets the eye. There are some emotions, but I think there's some real common ground,” he said.
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