Due to a late season snowstorm with freezing temperatures in southwest Colorado, buds and blossoms on many shrubs and bushes were damaged. As a result, some common food sources for bears, like acorns, chokecherries, and serviceberries, are present in much smaller quantities this summer. The absence of these food sources have left bears looking for alternative food sources across this area of the state, and have increased their contact with humans. Many private and public land areas across southwest Colorado have experienced increased bear-human contacts this summer, and Mesa Verde National Park is no different.
Bears may have a natural curiosity towards humans, but should be wary enough to prevent encounters, and they often keep their distance from humans. Increased contact between humans and bears will decrease this cautiousness, until the animal will display little fear or will actively approach humans. When animals, including bears, become habituated to humans, they begin to recognize humans can provide a source of food, whether from a person feeding them, unattended food in campground and picnic areas, or unsecured dumpsters or improper trash disposal. Wildlife, especially bears, can become aggressive when those food sources are denied, and can otherwise be destructive in attempting to reach those food sources.
Mesa Verde National Park is home to a small population of black bears. The exact number is hard to determine, due to their transient nature. Bear sightings are more frequent this summer, as the bears in the park look for other food sources. Increased bear presence in the Morefield Campground and Far View area have prompted wildlife and law enforcement staff at Mesa Verde to increase hazing of the bears, deterring them from human inhabited areas in the park. Relocating a habituated bear into an area with which it is not familiar and which already has a limited food supply is not a good option, as competition with existing bears in the area may lead to starvation of one or all bears in the area.
Law enforcement and wildlife management staff at Mesa Verde continue to haze the bears that are seen in inhabited areas. This is intended to cause the bears to return to that state of being wary of humans, and not seek them out. Regular patrols are conducted in Morefield Campground to ensure that campers have secured food, coolers, and trash. Campsites that are found not in compliance, will have items confiscated and campers will be cited. Volunteer outreach patrols will soon begin in Morefield Campground to educate campers about proper food storage and waste disposal. Park staff are also consulting other organizations and agencies to ensure we are employing best practices to reduce future bear-human contacts. Park management is working closely with all park staff, the park’s concessionaire, contractors, and visitors to ensure that bears do not have access to human food or garbage.
Park officials ask visitors to help keep the wildlife at Mesa Verde wild. While it is a great experience to see a bear or other wildlife in the park, please do not stop your vehicle to take pictures of them as this can lead to animal caused traffic jams and habituation. Park officials also remind visitors that it is unlawful to approach, feed, or harass animals in the park. Please stay in your vehicle. If you spot a bear in the park, please alert the nearest ranger.
Park staff are currently seeking volunteers to help with bear outreach communication at Morefield Campground. If interested, please e-mail park biologist, Paul Morey at firstname.lastname@example.org.