Durango group strives to set example in reducing human-bear conflict

A bear is pictured outside a La Plata County home where electric fencing was installed to protect chickens and beehives. (Courtesy photo/Bear Smart Durango)

When Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced $1 million worth of funding in 2022 for the Human-Bear Conflict Reduction Community Grant Program, partners rallied to craft a grant proposal that would have a wide-ranging benefit for bears and humans across Durango and La Plata County.

A local Bear Working Group exists in La Plata County with the goal of minimizing human and bear conflict. The group is made up of representatives from the City of Durango, La Plata County, CPW, the U.S. Forest Service, Bear Smart Durango, The Good Food Collective, law enforcement, local waste haulers and other stakeholders.

The group submitted a grant request centered around infrastructure and personnel. After review, the La Plata County Human-Bear Challenge grant request was fully funded by CPW for $206,539, the second-largest grant issued in the state. Thanks to partner matches and in-kind contributions from project partners of $297,135, the five-year project is estimated at a total of $503,932.

“We’ve had great collaboration and look forward to continuing the important work of reducing human-bear conflicts,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Adrian Archuleta.

“We find ourselves too often with bear conflicts during average or even relatively good bear years for our area. The effort the Bear Working Group has done and is continuing to do to address this through this well-rounded grant will certainly help.”

The infrastructure side of the grant will cover all-metal bear-resistant trash containers, food storage lockers and additional conflict mitigation materials such as electric fencing to protect beehives, chickens, compost, small livestock and more.

The personnel portion of the grant will create a bear resource officer position within La Plata County as well as a fruit gleaning coordinator position through The Good Food Collective.

“Upon hearing about the Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant, our local Bear Working Group identified needs and developed a roadmap for partners to better address issues on a countywide scale,” said Bryan Peterson, Executive Director of Bear Smart Durango.

“This roadmap, the La Plata County Human-Bear Conflict Challenge, challenges partners to reach project goals that will have meaningful impact in reducing human-bear conflict in our area. Everything in this grant aligns perfectly with the mission of Bear Smart Durango.”

In mid-August, a purchase order was approved by CPW for materials totaling $146,539. The ordering of materials is being conducted through the Community Foundation serving Southwest Colorado.

Included in the order are 37 all-metal bear-resistant trash containers for Durango School District 9-R, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe campus, City of Durango and Pine River Irrigation District. Each group has committed to purchasing more cans or providing a grant match.

Durango 9-R will receive 20 of the trash cans. Three will go to each middle school, five will be placed at Durango High School and the rest will be divided between the district’s seven elementary schools. The district facilities team, led by Ron Reed, noted several schools have had issues with bears and raccoons in the past, particularly at schools where students eat lunch outside.

The City of Durango Parks and Recreation Department will place four bear-resistant trash containers at the swim beach at Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area.

This year’s purchase order will also provide 20 food storage lockers for local San Juan National Forest campgrounds, materials for installing 60 electric fence projects and other conflict mitigation materials such as unwelcome mats, loaner bear-resistant containers and scare devices.

Phoenix Recycling offered to have the all-metal cans and food storage lockers shipped to their facility, where partners will be able to collect them.

In 2023, an additional order will go out for 474 Kodiak residential bear-resistant trash containers for the City of Durango. The cans will go to neighborhoods identified as remaining higher-conflict areas.

The CPW grant will also fund the first two years of a newly created seasonal bear resource officer position through La Plata County. Peterson said it is expected the county and potentially other partners will assume the expense by the third year. Archuleta said the Bear Working Group works hard to educate the public regarding eliminating bear attractants around their homes but said education and enforcement is needed to fully address the problem.

Funding will also go to support a Fruit Gleaning Coordinator position to expand the capacity of the existing position at The Good Food Collective, which will match the grant funding it receives. This will allow the organization to develop and implement an on-demand bear mitigation gleaning strategy.

Peterson wants the greater Durango area to be the model for successful human-bear conflict mitigation across the state and beyond. He believes the steps being taken with this grant funding and five-year project help pave that path.

Post courtesy of montrosepress.com

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