Bear With Me

Today is National Black Bear Day, a day to recognize the most commonly found bear in North America. Now, to start, the black bear is not always black. According to the National Park Service, they can be black, brown, cinnamon, blonde, blue/gray, and even (very rarely) white. These bears are around 3 feet at the shoulder and between 5-7 feet tall when upright. Their weight can range from 100-600 pounds depending on their age, sex, and season. Sows usually give birth to one to three cubs at a time while in the winter denning period. The cubs are born weighing less than a pound but by their first birthday they usually weigh around 80 pounds. Cubs remain with the mother for about 18 months. Black bears are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything. Their diet consists mostly of roots, berries, insects, fish, and small mammals. They will also eat carrion and will follow their noses to any calories they can find. Bears are thought to have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom!

Black bears are thought to inhabit at least 40 states which includes Colorado and of course, Fremont County. Grizzly bears tended to make the headlines in the earlier years of Fremont County’s history as they were typically hunted more frequently seeing as they went after cattle and caused more grief to ranchers. Grizzly bears were eventually hunted out of Colorado and their smaller relatives, black bears, gained more time in the spotlight. For instance, in the Cañon City Daily Record on October 16, 1962, a cinnamon colored black bear made the headlines for his love of apples and pears. He spent three weeks at Mrs. Alice Bone’s place at the east end of Sherman Avenue due to the abundance of the foods he found to his liking.

Another bear also caused quite a stir when he came into town in 1971. The article, printed on July 3, 1971 in the Cañon City Daily Record is as follows:

Bear Creates Excitement in Town

The northwest resident section had an unusual visitor Saturday morning – a 90-pound black bear.

He wandered down from the Skyline Drive, called at the O.R. Cox home, 403 Pike Ave., rummaged through some neighborhood garbage cans and attracted a wary bunch of neighbors and other onlookers.

He finally climbed a tree and looked over the situation as officers wondered what to do. They tried some tranquilizing shots with the idea of toting him off to the mountains and turning him loose.

The tranquilizers, meant for smaller animals, didn’t phaze [sic] him.

Finally, he gingerly slid down the tree, ambled off towards the Skyline Drive and wound up in the northeast part of the prison grounds. After inspecting things there, he went back up the Skyline, crossed U.S. 50 as officers halted traffic to give him the right-of-way.

Then, as tourists and others watched, the bear stopped long enough to leisurely inspect his audience, then headed off up Fremont’s Peak – and presumably home.

Mr. and Mrs. Cox said they’ve had some other wild life visitors to the neighborhood, but this was the first bear.

“I guess he was hungry,” said Cox.

By the late ’90s and early 2000s, bear encounters were on the rise according to multiple articles. Much of this is due to human expansion into bear territory. And, the bear’s love of human garbage. In the words of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife in their Living With Bears pamphlet, “Colorado bears have people problems.” Bears don’t know they’re doing anything wrong and its easier to educate the people who live near bears than the bears themselves.

If you want more information on what to do if you encounter a bear or want to learn what to do to bear-proof your home, visit Colorado Parks & Wildlife to view their resources.

Visit the museum to look at our file on bears or see our stuffed cinnamon black bear on display.

A digital scanned image of a gray scale photograph of a black bear, location unknown, ca. 1940. Object ID: 2010.086.017; copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

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