The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved a regulation May 5 that bans hunters from hunting, killing or otherwise harassing bears in their dens.
The issue first came to the attention of the Colorado Division of Wildlife in November 2010, when Craig resident Richard Kendall tracked and killed a 703-pound black bear in its den in Moffat County.
Spokesman Randy Hampton said the DOW made the decision in an effort to promote safety and fair chase while hunting.
“It’s important to note that Richard Kendall did nothing in violation of the law because there was no law before this,” he said. “The concern was that other people would hear about killing a bear that size and think that tracking it to its den is the way to get into the record books.”
Hampton said the regulation is mostly a precautionary measure because the DOW has rarely faced the issue of hunters approaching bears in their dens.
“This was the first time we had heard about something like this,” he said. “We fully anticipate that having a law like this will take care of the issue.”
The regulation goes into effect July 1 and comes with a $68 fine for hunters who disturb bear dens.
Kendall received the same fine for the use of artificial light, though the DOW allowed him to keep his kill.
Under the new regulation, the DOW has the right to seize an animal carcass from hunters who violate the rule. The law will also define such a carcass as illegal possession of an animal, making the hunter subject to a $1,000 fine.
Hampton said the DOW does not expect to find a great deal of hunters disturbing bear dens. Field officers will observe habitats to determine if hunters are violating the regulation.
“Obviously, we can’t be everywhere at once, but we’ve been able to find violations with deer, elk and moose in some very remote areas,” he said. “Circumstances differ in every investigation, but we also rely on other hunters to let us know if any kind of poaching is going on.”
Hampton said the DOW has no intention of banning bear-hunting altogether.
On the contrary, the agency plans to issue 17-percent more bear licenses in the hopes of increasing bear harvesting by 20 percent once the season begins Sept. 2.
Hampton said the black bear population in the state stood between 8,000 and 12,000 in the 1990s. In the last few years, the numbers have grown closer to the latter.
Getting an accurate count for bears can be more difficult than other animals, Hampton said.
“We do our species counts in the winter when they’re hibernating,” he said. “The license numbers are based on supply not demand.”
The Wildlife Commission also set license numbers for deer, elk, moose and pronghorn antelope at the meeting.
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