DENVER A House panel passed Rep. J. Paul Browns bill Monday to partially repeal the ban on spring bear hunting.
Browns House Bill 1294 would allow the Colorado Wildlife Commission to decide when to allow bear hunting. Currently, hunting is banned from March 1 through Sept. 1, due to a 1992 ballot initiative.
Brown, R-Ignacio, is a sheep rancher who has lost animals to predatory bears. But he said hes running his bill out of concern for human safety.
Brown talked about his own experience one night with a bear that killed 50 of his sheep.
I have had very close contact. A bear woke me up with his bad breath. I slugged him, and then I shot him, Brown said.
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, chuckled.
Remind me not to get in a fight with you, Sonnenberg said.
Brown wrapped up the hearing with a passionate speech about the threat he said bears pose to humans.
Let me tell you, you get woken up by a bear thats right there in your face, that scares the heck out of you, Brown said. This Legislature, this committee needs to be proactive. Lets dont wait until we have a tragedy down the road.
The House Agriculture Committee passed his bill 8-5, sending it to the full House for more debate.
Tom Remington, head of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, agreed that human-bear conflicts are increasing, but he said bears almost always end up the losers.
Fatal interactions with bears are exceedingly rare, Remington said.
Bears have killed two people in Colorado since 1992, including one Ouray woman who had fed local bears for years. Bears injure an average of two or three people a year in Colorado, according to the division of wildlife.
The division of wildlife has not taken a comprehensive count of bears for 15 years, but the population is probably at least 12,000, said Jerry Apker, head of the divisions carnivore program.
Brown said he thinks the division of wildlifes population estimate is too low.
I see more bear than I ever have in my life, Brown said.
Hunters kill 750 to 800 bears a year in Colorado, and another 300 or so die at human hands, usually by car accidents or because division of wildlife officers kill them after they become threatening to humans.
Hunters kill more bears per year now than they did before the ballot initiative passed in 1992.
The division of wildlife wants to issue 14,000 hunting permits this year with a goal of taking 1,000 bears, Apker said.
If the bill passes, wildlife managers probably will push for a limited expansion of bear hunting in August but not in the spring, Remington said. He did not advocate for the bill one way or another.
Holly Tarry of the Humane Society of the United States said hunting bears in the spring is biologically unsound and inherently cruel.
Its hard to tell the difference between a male and a female, much less one that has cubs and one that does not. The spring bear hunt would cause cubs to be orphaned and to starve in their dens, Tarry said.
Brown did not think orphan bears would be a problem. His bill would leave in place the ballot initiatives ban on killing females with cubs.
The people of Colorado did not want female bears nursing their cubs to be killed. That is still the law, Brown said. Most hunters can tell if that sow has a cub because the cubs going to be pretty close to her.
Agriculture groups supported the bill, citing loss of livestock to bears.
Brad Milligan of Lewis testified on behalf of the Colorado Farm Bureau.
Milligan and his family run one of the states largest honeybee operations, and he said they are having increasing problems with bears destroying their hives.
Over the years, the bear problem that weve experienced has only gotten worse, Milligan said.
The bill now goes to the full House.
Reach Joe Hanel at email@example.com.