Black Bears

Colorado has been home to bears since their earliest ancestors evolved in North America. These large, powerful animals play an important role in the ecosystem. Today, increasing numbers of people routinely live and play in bear country, resulting in more bear/ human encounters. For many people, seeing a bear is rare and the highlight of an outdoor experience. Learning about bears and being aware of their habits will help you fully appreciate these unique animals and the habitat in which they live.

Black Bears At A Glance

Black bears are the most common and generally the smallest of North American bears. Others include the grizzly or brown bear and the polar bear. Today, only the black bear is known to exist in Colorado.

Although we do not know exactly how many black bears live in Colorado, population estimates range from 8,000 to 12,000 bears. Ursus americanus, meaning "American black bear" is the bear's scientific name. Despite the common name, black bear, they aren't always black. They may be honey-colored, blond, brown or black. They may have a tan muzzle or a white spot on their chest. Most Colorado black bears are some shade of brown, and they sometimes appear cinnamon-colored, leading some people to mistake them for grizzly bears.

A black bear's body appears heavy and is supported by short, powerful legs. The highest point of a black bear is the lower-middle of its back. There is no prominent shoulder hump as there is on the larger grizzly bear.

Black bears vary in size and weight, with males generally being larger than females. Adult males average 275 pounds while the adult female may average 175 pounds. Depending on the season, food supply and gender, they may weigh anywhere from 125 to 450 pounds. Black bears measure about 3 feet high when on all 4 feet or about 5 feet tall standing upright.

Local Bears Need Our Help

Those of us who are residents and visitors to the Steamboat Springs area are very fortunate to have the opportunity to coexist with Colorado's wildlife as we make our homes and our retreats in their native habitat. However, this luxury comes with an added responsibility to ensure that we do not do allow ourselves to fall into careless habits that would ultimately jeopardize the local wildlife's safety through altering their natural behavior.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife and the City of Steamboat Springs has the shared responsibility with the community to educate people on how to properly take on these added responsibilities. We have taken our responsibility very seriously, because we support the fact that people generated conflicts with wildlife are essentially "people problems" not "wildlife problems". Ultimately, these human/wildlife conflicts can only be resolved through the education and change in people's attitudes and behaviors on relatively simple matters that would primarily entail minor adaptations to their lifestyle.

Keeping the above in mind, black bears are a species that is very susceptible to falling victim to the unnatural opportunities that are sometimes indirectly provided to them by people who have not learned the necessary methods and precautions that they need to utilize when living in or visiting bear country. Ultimately, if people don't allow themselves to be educated accordingly, the bears have little chance of surviving. The weblinks listed below can help you learn how to help local bears maintain their natural behavior.

City of Steamboat Springs Implements Ordinance to Protect Wildlife and People

  • Did you know that in 2001 the City implemented a new Ordinance that prohibits any garbage not stored in a wildlife proof container to be stored outside over night? 
  • Did you also know that there are particular guidelines that are also part of that ordinance that discuss what types of bird feeders you may use during certain times of the year?

For more information on this ordinance, please refer to the documents listed under this section.

What To Do If You Meet A Black Bear

There are no definite rules about what to do if you meet a bear. In almost all cases, the bear will detect you first and will leave the area. Bear attacks are rare compared to the number of close encounters. However, if you do meet a bear before it has had time to leave an area, here are some suggestions.

Remember: Every situation is different with respect to the bear, the terrain, the people and their activity.  

  • Stay calm. If you see a bear and it hasn't seen you, calmly leave the area. 
  • As you move away, talk aloud to let the bear discover your presence. 
  • Stop. Back away slowly while facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact as bears may perceive this as a threat. 
  • Give the bear plenty of room to escape. Wild bears rarely attack people unless they feel threatened or provoked.
  • If on a trail, step off the trail on the downhill side and slowly leave the area. 
  • Don't run or make any sudden movements. Running is likely to prompt the bear to give chase and you can't outrun a bear. 
  • Do not attempt climbing trees to escape black bears. This may stimulate the bear to follow and pull you out by the foot. 
  • Stand your ground.
  • Speak softly. This may reassure the bear that no harm is meant to it. Try not to show fear. 
  • In contrast to grizzly bears, female black bears do not normally defend their cubs aggressively; but send them up trees. However, use extra caution if you encounter a female black bear with cubs. Move away from the cub; be on the lookout for other cubs. 
  • Bears use all their senses to try to identify what you are. Remember: Their eyesight is good and their sense of smell is acute. If a bear stands upright or moves closer, it may be trying to detect smells in the air. This isn't a sign of aggression. Once it identifies you, it may leave the area or try to intimidate you by charging to within a few feet before it withdraws. 
  • Fight back if a black bear attacks you. Black bears have been driven away when people have fought back with rocks, sticks, binoculars and even their bare hands.


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