A Grizzly Possibility: A Recent Sighting Near Aspen has Stirred Excitement

Mountain lion sightings seem like they are becoming as common as bumper stickers in Boulder County.

There’s no doubt contact between humans and the big cats can have serious consequences for both parties. But there was a far more rare, far more imposing sighting in the wilds of Colorado in September, the consequences of which could be far-reaching and monumental.

A pair of hunters reported seeing a grizzly bear near Independence Pass on Sept. 20. The Colorado Division of Wildlife deemed the hunters credible witnesses because of their extensive experience and knowledge of the difference between a black bear and a grizzly.

The DOW found no signs of grizzlies after a foot and helicopter search was suspended last week. But even the possibility that one of the continent’s largest predators has returned to Colorado has the wilderness community buzzing.

“Just the presence of one grizzly would have an effect in a big way. It would be huge,” says Marc Bekoff, a biology professor at the University of Colorado. “They are so powerful and I have to say it would certainly make a big change in the ecosystem.”

The DOW suspended the search for the grizzlies because winter weather was approaching. Bekoff said it would be difficult to find signs of the grizzlies now anyway because there is not enough snow or mud to hold a reliable track.

“We probably won’t know anything until spring,” DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield told the Associated Press.

Brown bears, aka grizzlies, are an endangered species and extremely rare south of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park. The last sighting in Colorado was in 1979 and the animals have long been thought to be extinct in the state. The last confirmed kill of a grizzly in Colorado was in the late 1950s. Experts have theorized that if the bears are in Colorado, they would be located in the south San Juan Mountains, one of the most remote areas in the state.

The recent sighting near Aspen included a female bear and two cubs, which means the bears’ presence could grow in Colorado if the species can reproduce here.

“We are hopeful but skeptical about the sighting, and we hope that the Division of Wildlife is doing everything in their power to protect the species from accidental shooting, as it is the black bear season at the moment,” says Wendy Keefover-Ring, a carnivore specialist with Sinapu, a Boulder conservation nonprofit dedicated to large carnivores. . “Especially if it’s a female with cubs. Grizzly bears provision for their cubs for three years. They are dependent upon their mothers for their survival.”

There are no hunting licenses that cover grizzlies in Colorado. A main distinction between grizzlies and more common black bears is a hump between the grizzlies’ shoulders. Grizzlies usually are much larger than black bears. They can grow to eight feet tall and weigh 800 pounds. Black bears typically weigh from 125 to 500 pounds.

The grizzly sighting comes two years after a gray wolf was found dead on the side of I-70 near Idaho Springs. Wolves also were thought to be extinct in Colorado. The dead wolf was identified by a radio collar as one “from the Swan Lake pack in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park,” according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

There have not been any further confirmed wolf sightings, and as human development has continued to encroach further into Colorado’s wilderness, further resurgence in predatory animals such as the grizzly and wolf may be hampered.

That hasn’t stopped outdoor enthusiasts from imagining what the state would be like if there were grizzlies here. Winter will make more sightings difficult, but if a few have migrated south from Montana and Wyoming, it’s possible that more will follow.

“If a grizzly is here, then others can come,” Bekoff says. “It’s such a rare event, but if it’s true that means there’s a corridor that would allow them to come.”

By Zak Brown,
Boulder Daily Camera
October 9, 2006
E-mail: brownz@dailycamera.com.

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7 responses to “A Grizzly Possibility: A Recent Sighting Near Aspen has Stirred Excitement

  1. I live in Colorado, and I believe there are grizzly’s here. The mountains throughout most of Colorado are higher and more rugged then the mountains of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. Last I heard Wyoming has around 900 grizzly bears”2005″. I also know that Wyoming has a relatively low population of black bears compared to Colorado. If Wyoming has around 900 grizz. Then Colorado could easily support at least twice that many. Colorado has more elk then Wyoming, Montana, and half the state of Idaho put together. Not to mention we have a bigger deer heard then any of those other states. We also don’t get as hard of winters as those other states. I know these things because I am an avid hunter and geography buff “I probably know more about maps then most geography teachers I spend hours every month looking at them”. I hunted northwest of Creede, Colorado last year for elk. While I was hunting I asked a local fellow hunter if he had ever seen a grizz. He told me his brother had a large brown bear with a humped back come into a cow elk cow. The bear supposedly had at least a 13 inch back track. If this is true this was undoubtly a grizzly. The Colorado division of wildlife does not want the federal gov. to know there are grizz down there. Can you blame them. I don’t.

  2. A flicker of light in the dark colorado rockies? Could the bear still be here? I certainly hope so but I wont hold my breath.

  3. Yep, the San Juans would be a pretty far stretch. that is a beautiful part of the country. I lived and worked in Tuba City, AZ for many years.

  4. I also heard several years ago that a hunter had killed a grizz in the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juans, with a Yellowstone tag on it. I never saw any prooof of it but the story was very popular at the time. This would be a surprise, The San Juans are in southwestern CO. but are one of the most remote and rugged areas in the country. I live there.

  5. A guy who had my house in Rawlins rented told me that he had a bear bait set out and a remote camera set on it. He stated he saw a griz on it….I never saw the pics so I don’t know. that would have been in the Sierra Madres in southern Wyoming.
    There are so many griz with frequent flyer miles in north western wyoming that I wouldn’t be surprised if a few got dropped off down there.

  6. This is exciting news indeed. About 15 years ago I was hiking in the San Juans. Ahead of me on an old jeep road, I saw, what I still think was, a grizzly bear. It ran across about 50 to 100 feet in fromt of me. It was moving fast but I got a good look at it. I was told there were no grizzlies in the state so I let it drop. I have seen lots of black bears and this was not the same animal. This gives me hope that I was right and that there are grizzlies in the San Juans. I hope what Bekoff says about there being a corridor is true. That wolves and bears can migrate into the state. But how would they negotiate I-70?

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