Black Bears in Colorado

Black bears are common throughout the western 2/3 of Colorado, from the Front Range foothills to the western canyonlands.  Favoring elevations below the Subalpine Zone, they are most abundant in shrublands and montane forest and their population is highest across southern and western portions of the State.  According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, about 17-18,000 black bears inhabit Colorado and their population has remained relatively stable in recent decades; of course, the human population has expanded significantly and bear-human encounters have increased in concert.

More than 80% of Colorado black bears are brown in color, often light cinnamon or even blonde; indeed, some grizzly sightings in the State have been attributed to sightings of large, brown-colored black bears.  Omniverous, plant material (including vegetation and berries) accounts for up to 90% of their diet though they also consume insects, small animals, fish, carrion and, as we know, human garbage.  Adult black bears have a home range of 10 to 200 square miles and are active from March to late November in Colorado; during hibernation, they utilize natural caves and hollow logs or dig out dens beneath fallen trees, rock outcrops or stumps.

Despite their widespread range in Colorado, black bears are seldom encountered unless the natural food crop is reduced and they visit camps or towns in search of nourishment.  Since they are most active in the hours surrounding dawn and dusk, hikers are advised to be especially cautious during those periods.  Black bears avoid human contact whenever possible and are rarely aggressive unless cubs are present; on the other hand, given the fact that adult males weigh up to 500 pounds and that these bears can easily outrun humans, it is best to avoid surprise encounters and to observe them from a safe and nonthreatening distance.