About this Project


A visual case story of Boulder’s efforts to coexist with urban black bears.

Each year in Boulder, Colorado, human communities frequently experience a variety of negative interactions with black bears. Unsecured trash, unharvested fruit, bird feeders, and other attractants are the common culprits that lure bears into urban areas. As a consequence, bears may become habituated to urban life and require physical management action to be taken, such as relocation or euthanasia. The presence of city-dwelling black bears also poses a threat to human safety as well as other matters relating to property damage and sanitation.

In response to these concerns, my creative-track Master’s thesis explores how community engagement efforts and visual storytelling materials may help reduce human-black bear conflicts in Boulder, while also serving as a guide to coexistence for other communities living with these omnivores.

In this visual storytelling project, my goals were threefold: to identify local stakeholders and understand past, present, and current efforts taken to reduce human-bear conflicts; to understand community values of and experiences living with local black bears; and to display my findings in a visually engaging way to encourage Boulder residents to adopt proactive measures which may reduce negative conflicts with urban black bears. I employed a variety of methods to accomplish these goals, ranging from formal and informal interviews, an online community survey, photography, videography, and research taking place through online and print materials as well as through stakeholder conversations. I identified local stakeholder groups to be Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the City of Boulder, and Boulder Bear Coalition, and worked with each group on a voluntary basis to better understand community engagement efforts in the area.

Meet the team

Melanie Hill

Creator of the Bears & People Project

Initially inspired by conflict stemming from the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, Melanie created this project through her MA in Media and Public Engagement program at the University of Colorado Boulder. She spent the past three years volunteering with local groups in order to understand Boulder’s efforts to coexist with urban black bears. Her hope is that this project will inspire residents to adopt proactive measures that will reduce negative interactions with bears, and increase protections for these animals and the people living alongside them.

In addition to her Masters program, Melanie works as the Director of Communications and Outreach at the WILD Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and connect wilderness, wildlife, and people internationally. Throughout each and every one of her efforts, Melanie is dedicated to finding new and innovative ways to connect people our natural environment so they may become active stewards of these wild spaces and species.

All photos and videos are by Melanie, unless otherwise stated.

Erin Hauer

Watercolor illustrations

Watercolor painting is Erin’s way of studying patterns in nature, sharing peace in the strokes of trees and bird feathers, washing them over with shadow to illuminate their beauty and wonder among us. Black bear fur is not black, it is a shifting patchwork of soft blues, browns, and amber. By articulating the delicate details, Erin hopes to capture the attention of human eyes and ultimately compassion for the fate of bears. Wildlife is central to Erin’s purpose in becoming a landscape architect. She believes that urban landscapes must evolve for ecological processes, and so must people. As an intern for the WILD Foundation, Erin helped to plan and implement the native forage buffer zone in the spring of 2017, which was a pilot project to augment natural harvest in Boulder’s montane conservation habitat and reduce bear migration to urban areas. The Bears and People Project is the perfect instance for art to evoke sensitive feelings, like admiration for wildlife and our interconnection to bears, and inspire the community’s engagement in coexistence.

Carlyn Hill

Bear comics

Carlyn Hill is the Writer and Content Manager at Threadless.com, an online apparel company that prints designs which are submitted and voted on by their artist community. In this role, Carlyn manages the site’s blog contributors and writes original and branded content. She also writes for HelloGiggles, The Mary Sue, and Black Girl Nerds. There’s no doubt Carlyn is an accomplished writer, but she didn’t plan on a writing career, she initially graduated Indiana University with a B.A in Psychology and minor in Telecommunications, because she was torn between a career in psychology or television. As she likes to put it, she’s currently using her Psych degree as a coffee coaster. Carlyn has been a panelist for Threadless’ live events at C2E2Wizard World Chicago, and Indy PopCon. When she’s not writing, you can find her doing freelance illustration, praising the Oxford comma, or spending time with her boyfriend, Netflix. For the Bears & People Project, Carlyn used unique illustration style to create custom comics that demonstrate how individuals can reduce conflicts with black bears.

Chris Leone

Data wizard

Chris Leone is the Senior Data & Reporting Analyst at Blinker, a platform that is disrupting the Auto industry by allowing people to buy, sell and refinance cars with the snap of a photo. At Blinker, Chris works with a variety of qualitative and quantitative data and is responsible for reporting and analytics including tracking web and mobile traffic, digging in to product and behavioral analytics, and monitoring the competitive landscape. While no two projects are the same, he has always enjoyed the one consistent challenge – taking large or messy data sets and transforming them in to digestible and meaningful insights. When he’s not crunching numbers, he spends his time with his fiancé and their 3 dogs taking advantage of all Colorado has to offer, cooking, biking, climbing, and eating pizza. Chris has always been passionate about nature and wildlife, so having the opportunity to combine the focus of the Bears & People Project with data was the ideal opportunity.

Thesis committee

Joanna Lambert

Environmental Studies, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado Boulder

Nabil Echchaibi

Founding Department Chair
Media Studies
University of Colorado Boulder

Ross Taylor

Assistant Professor
University of Colorado Boulder

With many thanks to