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Bears More Visible At Mesa Verde National Park

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A poor forage year has raised the visibility of black bears at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, where the bruins are searching far and wide for meals. As a consequence, park visitors should be mindful of how close they get to the bears.

Park staff say a late season snowstorm with freezing temperatures in southwest Colorado damaged many buds and blossoms on many shrubs and bushes. As a result, some common food sources for bears, such as acorns, chokecherries, and serviceberries, are present in much smaller quantities this summer. The absence of these food sources has left bears looking for alternative food sources, and has increased their contact with humans. Many private and public land areas across southwest Colorado have experienced increased bear-human contacts this summer, and Mesa Verde National Park is no different.

Bears may have a natural curiosity towards humans, but should be wary enough to prevent encounters, and they often keep their distance from humans. Increased contact between humans and bears will decrease this cautiousness, until the animal will display little fear or will actively approach humans. When animals, including bears, become habituated to humans, they begin to recognize humans can provide a source of food, whether from a person feeding them, unattended food in campground and picnic areas, or unsecured dumpsters or improper trash disposal. Wildlife, especially bears, can become aggressive when those food sources are denied, and can otherwise be destructive in attempting to reach those food sources.

Mesa Verde National Park is home to a small population of black bears. The exact number is hard to determine, due to their transient nature. Bear sightings are more frequent this summer, as the bears in the park look for other food sources. Increased bear presence in the Morefield Campground and Far View area have prompted wildlife and law enforcement staff at Mesa Verde to increase hazing of the bears, deterring them from human inhabited areas in the park. Relocating a habituated bear into an area with which it is not familiar and which already has a limited food supply is not a good option, as competition with existing bears in the area may lead to starvation of one or all bears in the area.

Regular patrols are being conducted in Morefield Campground to ensure that campers have secured food, coolers, and trash. Campsites that are found not in compliance will have items confiscated and campers will be cited. Volunteer outreach patrols will soon begin in Morefield Campground to educate campers about proper food storage and waste disposal. Park management is working closely with all park staff, the park’s concessionaire, contractors, and visitors to ensure that bears do not have access to human food or garbage.

Park officials ask visitors to help keep the wildlife at Mesa Verde wild. While it is a great experience to see a bear or other wildlife in the park, you're asked to not stop your vehicle to take pictures of them, as this can lead to animal-caused traffic jams and habituation. Park officials also remind visitors that it is unlawful to approach, feed, or harass animals in the park. 

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