Stakeholders

Stakeholders

Protecting black bears and keeping the community safe in Boulder, Colorado

There are many passionate individuals and organizations involved with black bear efforts in Boulder. Of them, there are three main groups that provide consistent leadership: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the City of Boulder, and Boulder Bear Coalition. Each of these groups has their own goals and roles when it comes to the urban bear interface, but here in Boulder it essentially comes down to reducing human conflicts with bears and promoting peaceful coexistence.

Boulder Bear Coalition:

Brenda Lee

Founder

Boulder Bear Coalition is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2012 by a woman named Brenda Lee for the sole purpose of protecting local black bears. This volunteer-led nonprofit aims to create community-based solutions to human-bear conflicts in Boulder and has become a trusted community voice for wildlife among residents. After moving to Boulder in 2006, Brenda was disturbed by the lethal actions taken against bears on almost an annual basis within Boulder’s city limits. Her story is a powerful example of a concerned member of the community stepping up to take leadership and work alongside the community and local government to create meaningful change. Since its inception, Boulder Bear Coalition helped the City of Boulder pass the Bear Protection Ordinance, became a founding member of the Community Fruit Rescue, created collaborative and innovative solutions to reduce conflicts with bears, and provided extensive guidance and education around how to live with black bears. Brenda spends much of her time researching new opportunities for black bear coexistence, managing volunteers, searching for funding, and providing oversight to local policy and management of bears.

“As a community we can do a better job at ensuring coexistence with these bears. Boulder Bear Coalition played a critical role in doing research, educating people, and thinking outside the box to keep bears out of harm’s way.”

Q&A with Brenda Lee

Can you tell me about your background?

Growing up I was always interested in and pretty good at math, so it made sense for me to pursue a mathematics degree in college. My thought with that all along was, how can I apply this to wildlife and environmental issues? So when I graduated and tried to get into wildlife efforts, most places required some type of a biology background. I had to work and make a living for myself, so I ended up working for an engineering company. I did this for about 8 years and although it was exciting and I got to travel, it just wasn’t fulfilling. Friends had always told me that I should be a therapist because I had this gift of helping people open up and talk about their lives, so after I got married I decided to apply to graduate school to become a therapist. Most of my work centered around family and marriage therapy- I worked with lots of great people and enjoyed the experience and felt like I was doing good work, but it still just didn’t feel like what I was meant to do. I always felt more connected to wildlife.

What led to you starting Boulder Bear Coalition?

After I moved to Boulder from southern California in 2006, I began learning about the local conflicts with black bears. It all began for me on an individual basis when one of the first urban bears I had ever heard about was this sow that had been hanging around town for the past few weeks with her cub. The sow had a broken jaw, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife felt like they might be able to help her and the cub if they could tranquilize them and assess the sow’s health. Unfortunately after she was tranquilized and fell out of the tree they were in, CPW decided she needed to be euthanized. While doing so, the cub got away. They didn’t know where it went and didn’t think it was old enough to survive on its own. And I heard all this through my neighbors and at the time didn’t even know there were bears here in Boulder, and so close to our homes. So I started looking for the cub and put signs up at trailheads and said if anyone sees this cub, call me. I also gathered a group that had different days looking for the cub while out hiking…so this particular situation was my tipping point. I thought, this is just not right! Who is watching out for this cub? It was a complicated situation and I wasn’t aware of anyone following up. So this encouraged me to start talking to CPW and I became a bearsitter volunteer to learn more. The cub was eventually seen at some point after that but I later on learned she was hit by a car and killed. After continuing to understand Boulder’s situation with bears, I decided to form the Boulder Bear Coalition. Having it structured as a nonprofit gave my efforts legitimacy and showed that it’s a community concern and not just one person. Based on all my communications with local residents, I saw that the community needed someone to lead it and help show that the bears do matter and that we can all be doing more.

Tell me about your involvement with the Bear Protection Ordinance.

Once I understood that bears were coming into town to get into trash, I began doing research and talked to other cities and experts to learn about their experiences. I also began walking alleys where I understood bears getting into trash was an issue. Each morning of trash day I’d walk these problem areas, namely University Hill, and document the trash strewn around by bears, and started to present this information to Boulder’s City Council. BBC always came with a solution in hand when we presented these problems. One council member would thank me for doing my homework and showing up with ideas in hand on how to make it better. I even purchased $5,000 worth of bear-resistant waste bins and rolled a few into a City Council meeting one time to show them the options that were available. Each one was about $200 a pop and I believe I sold all but one of the cans to interested residents. BBC then looked into putting a law in place for bear-resistant canisters in Boulder, and got all the paperwork ready to go. We went to City Council and presented everything and asked them instead of having a special ballot initiative established, which would be very expensive, if they would go ahead and have the city implement an ordinance, which would be a lot smoother. They agreed. It was a lot of work and by the time it got around to being passed by City Council, it was passed unanimously. And that showed all the hard work that was put into it. Later on BBC was presented with an award that recognized the efforts we put in to work with the City and CPW to get this ordinance passed.

What efforts does Boulder Bear Coalition take to educate the community?

The best way to get through to people is to use logic- to explain the connection between trash being available and bears fattening up for hibernation. We’ve done lots of different things to try and reach people. I’ve produced flyers and brochures to send out online or hang up, and people in different neighborhoods would help disperse those. I do a lot of outreach on neighborhood email groups and NextDoor, and working with children and schools for outreach has been very useful. Kids are so good at putting pressure on their parents to do the right thing, so we would do presentations for girl scout troop meetings, in schools, and at places like the Farmer’s Market or by organizing these parties in the park at local parks in North Boulder. During bear season we get a lot of people who are interested in helping, so we try to utilize them to help with preventative efforts and education. We also work with other local groups, for example we helped start the Community Fruit Rescue to reduce the amount of fruit in town, and we partnered with Open Space & Mountain Parks and the WILD Foundation to develop a native forage buffer project that would increase natural forage in a bear’s habitat so to prevent them from coming into town.

What is your most meaningful accomplishment?

Working with the City and CPW to pass the Bear Protection Ordinance. And also creating the native forage buffer zones with OSMP and the WILD Foundation. It was a lot of thinking outside the box to try something new.

What are some of your major challenges?

Time. There is not enough time to do all that is needed. We live in an amazing community with an amazing City Council and we have this rich abundance of wildlife right here and it’s just the biggest challenge being able to do everything to improve the situation. There’s more that needs to be done with BBC- finding time or staffing and securing funding so people can be paid for their efforts. It’s also frustrating when there’s a lack of knowledge on the community’s part. People generally want to do the right thing but it’s hard when they don’t know what to do. When bear 317 was destroyed, many people contacted me saying “if I had only known, I would have bought a bear-resistant trash bin,” or “if I knew this would happen, I would have picked my fruit trees.” So these are things we are really trying to emphasize now.

Why is Boulder Bear Coalition important?

Because the bears need a voice. I feel a personal responsibility that all living beings deserve to live here as well. As a community we can do a better job at ensuring coexistence with these bears. BBC played a critical role in doing research, educating people, and thinking outside the box to keep bears out of harm’s way.

*Edited for length and clarity*

Q&A with Brenda Lee

Can you tell me about your background?

Growing up I was always interested in and pretty good at math, so it made sense for me to pursue a mathematics degree in college. My thought with that all along was, how can I apply this to wildlife and environmental issues? So when I graduated and tried to get into wildlife efforts, most places required some type of a biology background. I had to work and make a living for myself, so I ended up working for an engineering company. I did this for about 8 years and although it was exciting and I got to travel, it just wasn’t fulfilling. Friends had always told me that I should be a therapist because I had this gift of helping people open up and talk about their lives, so after I got married I decided to apply to graduate school to become a therapist. Most of my work centered around family and marriage therapy- I worked with lots of great people and enjoyed the experience and felt like I was doing good work, but it still just didn’t feel like what I was meant to do. I always felt more connected to wildlife.

What led to you starting Boulder Bear Coalition?

After I moved to Boulder from southern California in 2006, I began learning about the local conflicts with black bears. It all began for me on an individual basis when one of the first urban bears I had ever heard about was this sow that had been hanging around town for the past few weeks with her cub. The sow had a broken jaw, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife felt like they might be able to help her and the cub if they could tranquilize them and assess the sow’s health. Unfortunately after she was tranquilized and fell out of the tree they were in, CPW decided she needed to be euthanized. While doing so, the cub got away. They didn’t know where it went and didn’t think it was old enough to survive on its own. And I heard all this through my neighbors and at the time didn’t even know there were bears here in Boulder, and so close to our homes. So I started looking for the cub and put signs up at trailheads and said if anyone sees this cub, call me. I also gathered a group that had different days looking for the cub while out hiking…so this particular situation was my tipping point. I thought, this is just not right! Who is watching out for this cub? It was a complicated situation and I wasn’t aware of anyone following up. So this encouraged me to start talking to CPW and I became a bearsitter volunteer to learn more. The cub was eventually seen at some point after that but I later on learned she was hit by a car and killed. After continuing to understand Boulder’s situation with bears, I decided to form the Boulder Bear Coalition. Having it structured as a nonprofit gave my efforts legitimacy and showed that it’s a community concern and not just one person. Based on all my communications with local residents, I saw that the community needed someone to lead it and help show that the bears do matter and that we can all be doing more.

Tell me about your involvement with the Bear Protection Ordinance.

Once I understood that bears were coming into town to get into trash, I began doing research and talked to other cities and experts to learn about their experiences. I also began walking alleys where I understood bears getting into trash was an issue. Each morning of trash day I’d walk these problem areas, namely University Hill, and document the trash strewn around by bears, and started to present this information to Boulder’s City Council. BBC always came with a solution in hand when we presented these problems. One council member would thank me for doing my homework and showing up with ideas in hand on how to make it better. I even purchased $5,000 worth of bear-resistant waste bins and rolled a few into a City Council meeting one time to show them the options that were available. Each one was about $200 a pop and I believe I sold all but one of the cans to interested residents. BBC then looked into putting a law in place for bear-resistant canisters in Boulder, and got all the paperwork ready to go. We went to City Council and presented everything and asked them instead of having a special ballot initiative established, which would be very expensive, if they would go ahead and have the city implement an ordinance, which would be a lot smoother. They agreed. It was a lot of work and by the time it got around to being passed by City Council, it was passed unanimously. And that showed all the hard work that was put into it. Later on BBC was presented with an award that recognized the efforts we put in to work with the City and CPW to get this ordinance passed.

What efforts does Boulder Bear Coalition take to educate the community?

The best way to get through to people is to use logic- to explain the connection between trash being available and bears fattening up for hibernation. We’ve done lots of different things to try and reach people. I’ve produced flyers and brochures to send out online or hang up, and people in different neighborhoods would help disperse those. I do a lot of outreach on neighborhood email groups and NextDoor, and working with children and schools for outreach has been very useful. Kids are so good at putting pressure on their parents to do the right thing, so we would do presentations for girl scout troop meetings, in schools, and at places like the Farmer’s Market or by organizing these parties in the park at local parks in North Boulder. During bear season we get a lot of people who are interested in helping, so we try to utilize them to help with preventative efforts and education. We also work with other local groups, for example we helped start the Community Fruit Rescue to reduce the amount of fruit in town, and we partnered with Open Space & Mountain Parks and the WILD Foundation to develop a native forage buffer project that would increase natural forage in a bear’s habitat so to prevent them from coming into town.

What is your most meaningful accomplishment?

Working with the City and CPW to pass the Bear Protection Ordinance. And also creating the native forage buffer zones with OSMP and the WILD Foundation. It was a lot of thinking outside the box to try something new.

What are some of your major challenges?

Time. There is not enough time to do all that is needed. We live in an amazing community with an amazing City Council and we have this rich abundance of wildlife right here and it’s just the biggest challenge being able to do everything to improve the situation. There’s more that needs to be done with BBC- finding time or staffing and securing funding so people can be paid for their efforts. It’s also frustrating when there’s a lack of knowledge on the community’s part. People generally want to do the right thing but it’s hard when they don’t know what to do. When bear 317 was destroyed, many people contacted me saying “if I had only known, I would have bought a bear-resistant trash bin,” or “if I knew this would happen, I would have picked my fruit trees.” So these are things we are really trying to emphasize now.

Why is Boulder Bear Coalition important?

Because the bears need a voice. I feel a personal responsibility that all living beings deserve to live here as well. As a community we can do a better job at ensuring coexistence with these bears. BBC played a critical role in doing research, educating people, and thinking outside the box to keep bears out of harm’s way.

*Edited for length and clarity*

“I think my biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate how complex this challenge is and to understand it is a balancing act. As in, bears are not so dangerous that anyone should live in fear or we can’t tolerate their presence in town on some level, but they aren’t harmless either and should not be treated like pets.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Kristin Cannon

Boulder North District Wildlife Manager

The mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to “perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state, to provide a quality state parks system, and to provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources.” This government agency is responsible for conserving wildlife and habitat to ensure healthy sustainable populations and ecosystems exist throughout the state, and also locally in Boulder. CPW’s District Wildlife Manager for the Boulder North District is a woman named Kristin Cannon. Kristin has been with CPW since 2007, and in her current role since 2009. Her district is larger than just Boulder County, and she covers an area from I-25 west to the Continental Divide, between Highway 52 and Highway 7, and Lefthand Canyon to Boulder Canyon. Her role is to serve as the game warden for her region and she spends roughly a third of her time on law enforcement, a third on education efforts, and a third as a biologist. Much of her efforts are spent on wildlife conflict, specifically with black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, or moose. Kristin provides many opportunities for residents to get involved, ranging from the collaborative Bear Aware program with Open Space and Mountain Parks, a volunteer coyote crew in Erie, CO, and by facilitating an email group where she updates residents on local wildlife activities. She does her best to be open and transparent about her efforts, which have helped her gain the trust of the community.

Q&A with Kristin Cannon

How did you get started in this line of work?

Before I started with what was the Division of Wildlife (DOW) and is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), I was working up in Alaska as a fisheries observer, where I collected data on fishing boats for the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I knew I wanted to work with wildlife so I got started with the DOW in a temporary role in 2007 and then I started in Boulder as the District Wildlife Manager fulltime in 2009. Boulder was my number one choice so I got sent here and just never wanted to leave. My position with CPW is essentially the title for game warden. It’s a unique position where you spend a third of your time on law enforcement, a third on education efforts, and a third just being a biologist.

How does CPW manage black bears in Boulder?

When we manage wildlife we manage populations – not individual animals – and we also try to manage not only with the carrying capacity of the natural environment in mind, but the social carrying capacity. That essentially means the tolerance of the people around. For example in parts of the state where there is a lot of agriculture, the tolerance for wildlife that cause damage to agriculture might be much lower than what it is around here. So we are not going to eliminate populations in any one place but we might manage that population for a much lower level than you would in Boulder where wildlife tolerance is very high. So we take that into account when we draw up these management plans. Practically speaking, having a more tolerant community helps us be more tolerant, too.

Since you’ve been Boulder’s DWM, have you noticed a change in the community’s attitudes and behaviors?

I have noticed a difference. Especially here in Boulder when Val Matheson and I were in front of City Council in 2011, we received feedback that bear conflicts weren’t a big deal and no one was really having a problem with bears and garbage and it just wasn’t worth the community investment. That’s when Val and I – and Brenda Lee came on the scene too, so that really helped – and CPW officer Kris Middledorf started saying, it’s not that it’s NOT a problem, but people don’t understand it. And they don’t understand how widespread it is. So that’s really when my email communication with local residents started heating up and we began documenting more of where there were problems, and what the problems were. It was Kris Middledorf’s idea to begin the pilot project of focusing on just one small neighborhood and flooding them with education, and we would make sure every single resident is contacted and educated about bears and then we will go in and monitor trash violations. And then we’d have Code Enforcement follow up and give citations to see if that helped. So in that small area we started monitoring the issue and we were able to demonstrate with really concrete numbers just how much of an issue it is. How much garbage is spilled. How often bears are in town. What the impacts are. And then we started asking people more and more, are you impacted by this? And so we started getting more anecdotal reports like, ‘YES my alley is constantly disgusting because bears go through it every day’ and that’s when Brenda started doing some of her monitoring so she came at this from the community level and said ‘Yeah, I’ve been to all these alleys and they’re a disaster. There are bears here, there are bears there.’ So we started collecting and disseminating more info so people would understand what the issue is and people started realizing oh my gosh, they really are in town all the time.

Are there any cases you are aware of where bears have died from eating garbage?

In 2013 we had to euthanize three highly habituated bears in Boulder back to back to back. We necropsied them and one bear’s stomach was just full of garbage, it was just disgusting. We had a bear maybe in 2014 in south Boulder and she was really sick and ended up getting put down. They found antifreeze in her so I don’t know if that came from garbage or if she got into a garage or what. One bear had cellophane wrappers in his stomach, another bear up Sugarloaf got into rat poison and died. Household chemicals can for sure be fatal, but I don’t know if we’ve ever documented garbage killing a bear or making it so sick we had to put it down. But then again, not a lot of bears come into town to die of natural causes- they want to get away from people when they are feeling weak or vulnerable so I can’t tell you how many died on open space without us ever knowing.

How does it feel to have to kill a bear?

It’s not good. Leading up to it kind of the decision-making we do is maybe a little cold and logical. We manage for populations, and the population for bears around here is good, if not great. Logically, if I remove a bear that’s eating goats or is refusing to leave town, it’s not going to affect the population. In fact it might help another bear survive, and I work in a field of wildlife where there is no life without death. That’s just the nature of it. On that level you just kind of do what you need to and make those logical decisions.

The actual act of it though is much more difficult because bears are really amazing animals. Especially bears in town, you spend time getting to know an individual bear and so they’re really cute, really animated, and I’ve heard more than one wildlife officer say ‘gosh, they just remind me so much of my dog!’ So we connect with them on that level and can empathize what they’re like. When it actually comes time, I think making those decisions is actually easier than carrying them out. Logically it makes sense, but on a personal level none of us wants to do it. And so we avoid it. When our hand gets forced, as it usually does in these situations where a bear ends up getting put down, then it’s just a matter of doing it as humanely and efficiently as possible and just really trying to have respect for that bear’s life and place in the world. It takes a toll and I’ve never talked to any officer who just doesn’t feel kind of like they lose a little bit of their soul every time they do it. So I do get pretty emotional with bears on an individual basis, especially when I know the community is invested in them and then it becomes really really hard and takes several days, if not a few weeks, to rebound from it.

Do you feel like a lot of that could be avoided?

I do think that if people really took it seriously and were able to button down on these attractants and were willing to be creative – as bears figure things out – then yes putting down bears wouldn’t happen nearly as much. You might always have that one odd bear that comes into town and it’s just determined to get into trouble, but it would be so rare that I just don’t think it would be the same. I do think that people’s actions in town are leading to these conflicts which in return leads to me being in the position of having to kill a bear.

What’s your biggest challenge?

I think my biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate how complex this challenge is and to understand it is a balancing act. As in, bears are not so dangerous that anyone should live in fear or we can’t tolerate their presence in town on some level, but they aren’t harmless either and should not be treated like pets or “friends.” It is so hard to convince some people that it is more dangerous for the bear to be in town and that eating your garbage, city-fruit, etc. is not beneficial to them. I also get frustrated when people want to simplify the issue to be about us (CPW) and our nefarious decisions instead of a community and ecological one. I would love to leave the bears alone, but I can’t always, and no reasonable person in my position could either so it isn’t fair to make it about me (or whatever individual happens to be in my spot).

How about a favorite moment?

I have to say passing the Bear Protection Ordinance with Val and Brenda was one of the highlights of my career thus far. I also am just constantly encouraged by the positive feedback I get from the public, who not only try to understand, but are willing to do something to make a difference.

*Edited for length and clarity*

Q&A with Kristin Cannon

How did you get started in this line of work?

Before I started with what was the Division of Wildlife (DOW) and is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), I was working up in Alaska as a fisheries observer, where I collected data on fishing boats for the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. I knew I wanted to work with wildlife so I got started with the DOW in a temporary role in 2007 and then I started in Boulder as the District Wildlife Manager fulltime in 2009. Boulder was my number one choice so I got sent here and just never wanted to leave. My position with CPW is essentially the title for game warden. It’s a unique position where you spend a third of your time on law enforcement, a third on education efforts, and a third just being a biologist.

How does CPW manage black bears in Boulder?

When we manage wildlife we manage populations – not individual animals – and we also try to manage not only with the carrying capacity of the natural environment in mind, but the social carrying capacity. That essentially means the tolerance of the people around. For example in parts of the state where there is a lot of agriculture, the tolerance for wildlife that cause damage to agriculture might be much lower than what it is around here. So we are not going to eliminate populations in any one place but we might manage that population for a much lower level than you would in Boulder where wildlife tolerance is very high. So we take that into account when we draw up these management plans. Practically speaking, having a more tolerant community helps us be more tolerant, too.

Since you’ve been Boulder’s DWM, have you noticed a change in the community’s attitudes and behaviors?

I have noticed a difference. Especially here in Boulder when Val Matheson and I were in front of City Council in 2011, we received feedback that bear conflicts weren’t a big deal and no one was really having a problem with bears and garbage and it just wasn’t worth the community investment. That’s when Val and I – and Brenda Lee came on the scene too, so that really helped – and CPW officer Kris Middledorf started saying, it’s not that it’s NOT a problem, but people don’t understand it. And they don’t understand how widespread it is. So that’s really when my email communication with local residents started heating up and we began documenting more of where there were problems, and what the problems were. It was Kris Middledorf’s idea to begin the pilot project of focusing on just one small neighborhood and flooding them with education, and we would make sure every single resident is contacted and educated about bears and then we will go in and monitor trash violations. And then we’d have Code Enforcement follow up and give citations to see if that helped. So in that small area we started monitoring the issue and we were able to demonstrate with really concrete numbers just how much of an issue it is. How much garbage is spilled. How often bears are in town. What the impacts are. And then we started asking people more and more, are you impacted by this? And so we started getting more anecdotal reports like, ‘YES my alley is constantly disgusting because bears go through it every day’ and that’s when Brenda started doing some of her monitoring so she came at this from the community level and said ‘Yeah, I’ve been to all these alleys and they’re a disaster. There are bears here, there are bears there.’ So we started collecting and disseminating more info so people would understand what the issue is and people started realizing oh my gosh, they really are in town all the time.

Are there any cases you are aware of where bears have died from eating garbage?

In 2013 we had to euthanize three highly habituated bears in Boulder back to back to back. We necropsied them and one bear’s stomach was just full of garbage, it was just disgusting. We had a bear maybe in 2014 in south Boulder and she was really sick and ended up getting put down. They found antifreeze in her so I don’t know if that came from garbage or if she got into a garage or what. One bear had cellophane wrappers in his stomach, another bear up Sugarloaf got into rat poison and died. Household chemicals can for sure be fatal, but I don’t know if we’ve ever documented garbage killing a bear or making it so sick we had to put it down. But then again, not a lot of bears come into town to die of natural causes- they want to get away from people when they are feeling weak or vulnerable so I can’t tell you how many died on open space without us ever knowing.

How does it feel to have to kill a bear?

It’s not good. Leading up to it kind of the decision-making we do is maybe a little cold and logical. We manage for populations, and the population for bears around here is good, if not great. Logically, if I remove a bear that’s eating goats or is refusing to leave town, it’s not going to affect the population. In fact it might help another bear survive, and I work in a field of wildlife where there is no life without death. That’s just the nature of it. On that level you just kind of do what you need to and make those logical decisions.

The actual act of it though is much more difficult because bears are really amazing animals. Especially bears in town, you spend time getting to know an individual bear and so they’re really cute, really animated, and I’ve heard more than one wildlife officer say ‘gosh, they just remind me so much of my dog!’ So we connect with them on that level and can empathize what they’re like. When it actually comes time, I think making those decisions is actually easier than carrying them out. Logically it makes sense, but on a personal level none of us wants to do it. And so we avoid it. When our hand gets forced, as it usually does in these situations where a bear ends up getting put down, then it’s just a matter of doing it as humanely and efficiently as possible and just really trying to have respect for that bear’s life and place in the world. It takes a toll and I’ve never talked to any officer who just doesn’t feel kind of like they lose a little bit of their soul every time they do it. So I do get pretty emotional with bears on an individual basis, especially when I know the community is invested in them and then it becomes really really hard and takes several days, if not a few weeks, to rebound from it.

Do you feel like a lot of that could be avoided?

I do think that if people really took it seriously and were able to button down on these attractants and were willing to be creative – as bears figure things out – then yes putting down bears wouldn’t happen nearly as much. You might always have that one odd bear that comes into town and it’s just determined to get into trouble, but it would be so rare that I just don’t think it would be the same. I do think that people’s actions in town are leading to these conflicts which in return leads to me being in the position of having to kill a bear.

What’s your biggest challenge?

I think my biggest challenge is getting people to appreciate how complex this challenge is and to understand it is a balancing act. As in, bears are not so dangerous that anyone should live in fear or we can’t tolerate their presence in town on some level, but they aren’t harmless either and should not be treated like pets or “friends.” It is so hard to convince some people that it is more dangerous for the bear to be in town and that eating your garbage, city-fruit, etc. is not beneficial to them. I also get frustrated when people want to simplify the issue to be about us (CPW) and our nefarious decisions instead of a community and ecological one. I would love to leave the bears alone, but I can’t always, and no reasonable person in my position could either so it isn’t fair to make it about me (or whatever individual happens to be in my spot).

How about a favorite moment?

I have to say passing the Bear Protection Ordinance with Val and Brenda was one of the highlights of my career thus far. I also am just constantly encouraged by the positive feedback I get from the public, who not only try to understand, but are willing to do something to make a difference.

*Edited for length and clarity*

City of Boulder:

Valerie Matheson

Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator

Recognizing the close proximity to the mountains and open space, the City of Boulder brought Valerie Matheson on as the city’s first Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator. Not only is this a first for Boulder, but it very well may be a one-of-a-kind role for any American government municipality. Originally this work was covered by a team of city staff from five different departments, which ultimately proved to be inefficient for each person to take 10-20% of their time to work on urban wildlife related issues. In 2009 Valerie was brought on to help the city become more proactive and consider ways to better coexist with wildlife and limit lethal control where possible. She spends about 25% of her time on permitting, 25% on policy and plan development, and the remaining 50% is dedicated to project management and implementation. Considering Boulder is located in between the Rocky Mountain foothills and the western plains, in addition to black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes, Valerie spends a portion of her time on prairie dog concerns. Boulder has an extremely engaged community, which tends to be a bit of a blessing and a curse for public servants, so much of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator position is centered around creating policy around community concerns and managing those expectations.

“My role is really trying to get to the information of, what does the community want? Because it doesn’t make sense to build an ordinance that the community doesn’t support and won’t comply with. It’s all about figuring out what is important to you and how do we do that.”

Q&A with Val Matheson

How did you get involved with urban conservation programs?

I’ve been working on human-animal conflict since I was 18, which includes jobs and pursuing study and stuff. I grew up in New York City, which is an incredibly urban environment. A place that was really special to me at the time was a wildlife refuge in Queens, where I did a high school internship. I started taking seasonal work when I was 18 for a couple years as a ranger in NYC to protect the piping plover, which is this little baked potato of a bird that was federally protected and nested on beaches in Queens where vehicles were allowed to drive up and down. Their chicks, which are precocial, had to get hatched out and run off to the ocean to feed, but they’d get trapped in these tire tracks and just run up and down the tire tracks and they couldn’t get out and eat. Part of my role was keeping vehicles off the beach and it was an incredibly contentious situation for folks who had been driving on the beach for 30 years and now this little bird was getting federal status and they couldn’t drive anymore and they hired rangers to monitor the area. So early on I was really intrigued by this juxtaposition of protecting species in urban areas where they don’t quite fit. So I continued that theme and worked on graduate school work on how communities change over an urban gradient- examining birds, butterflies, spiders, and looking at community composition from urban centers to natural areas. And so that’s always been my interest but I got really burnt out in graduate school and wanted to be a park ranger for a while, so I came to Boulder and did that. Eventually I did want to do more and the timing worked out where my current Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator position was created and sent out for hire at the end of 2008. I applied and got it. It was really an amazing match because I’ve always been interested in how animals and people work together in the urban interface and was kind of where I planned to be going.

What was the process like for implementing the Bear Protection Ordinance?

In 2011 we held multiple community events that helped us get input on people’s experiences with bears and trash. We learned that there was not a real community appetite for bear resistant containers, and I started thinking that maybe I had misperceptions about community values and behaviors. I thought it was going to be a no-brainer that everyone would want bear resistant trash cans, and that didn’t seem to be the case. I was a little confused by that; it was a big learning lesson and I still believe we just had to make a better connection between a bear being food conditioned and then becoming habituated to people and then getting killed. So in 2012-2013 we partnered with CPW to do a pilot program where we focused on a small area of the city (approximately 500 houses) and we were going to hit them hard with education and give them a voluntary option of getting bear resistant carts, and then we hit them hard with enforcement to see if it would affect behavior change. That would inform whether or not we really needed an ordinance. What we saw in those two years was that we could affect some behavior change and get some voluntary compliance, but not at the scale we would need to make a difference. So we were going to complete the cycle in 2014 by saying we will need the bear resistant bins… but in 2013 four bears were killed, which really accelerated the push to have the ordinance implemented NOW. Boulder Bear Coalition was becoming more active around that time and we were getting some additional feedback that we could capture, and it was feedback into a kind of coalesced community organization that was a new voice. It wasn’t CPW and the City coming forward- there was now a third leg ot the stool which I think really helped show the community momentum.

How is Boulder doing compared to other cities living with urban wildlife? Are we successful in our efforts?

I think we are amazingly successful. We are really standing out in terms of success. We actually owe that in part to all those other communities like Durango and Steamboat and Vail who have staff that had an ordinance in place and were willing to share their successes and failures. That allowed us to learn from it and craft something that benefited from others who had test drove it out. I would say the thing that I think we’ve done better than any other area that I’m aware of is the not only thinking about implementation in a phased approach – so you’re not overly ambitious with trying to get it all done at once, but really planning it out – and having this relationship with Code Enforcement from the beginning in terms of staffing up in a way that the city could have continuous enforcement with an ordinance. I often hear that it’s a lot easier to write an ordinance, a good one, than it is to enforce it. It’s money and resources, and it’s a luxury that Boulder has that not all areas have. So we’re not really comparing apples to apples in terms of what are the resources that are allotted and their program. There’s not an Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator in every community. So that’s an obstacle that a lot of places have that we didn’t have.

Are you aware of any other regions that have a dedicated role like yours?

**Shakes head emphatically, no**

Tell me about some of your experiences as UWCC. What are some of your highlights and challenges?

The blessings are the challenges in some regards, where what I like about Boulder so much is the community engagement. It’s really hard to be a civil servant if you don’t know what the community wants if they’re not engaged, right? Because you measure success based on your delivering what is needed and wanted. But because we have a really engaged community with high expectations it can also be challenging for me to fulfill the expectation, because we can always do more. Which is true. We could always be doing better and be doing more, but that’s also the challenge: it’s very hard to be where we need to be.

As for highlights, I just really enjoy the opportunity and support to be creative in my role. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. We just have to do the best thing that can be done that is scientifically based. So that allows for some out of the box thinking and exploring and that’s pretty cool. It can be a really unique and supportive work environment to come up with new ways for coexistence where maybe other areas don’t have the luxury of working towards this stuff.

Final comments:

My role is really trying to get to the information of, what does the community want? And then I use that to build the ordinance. But the most challenging part is, what DO they want? Because it doesn’t make sense to build an ordinance that the community doesn’t support and won’t comply with. It’s all about figuring out what is important to you and how do we do that.

*Edited for length and clarity*

Q&A with Val Matheson

How did you get involved with urban conservation programs?

I’ve been working on human-animal conflict since I was 18, which includes jobs and pursuing study and stuff. I grew up in New York City, which is an incredibly urban environment. A place that was really special to me at the time was a wildlife refuge in Queens, where I did a high school internship. I started taking seasonal work when I was 18 for a couple years as a ranger in NYC to protect the piping plover, which is this little baked potato of a bird that was federally protected and nested on beaches in Queens where vehicles were allowed to drive up and down. Their chicks, which are precocial, had to get hatched out and run off to the ocean to feed, but they’d get trapped in these tire tracks and just run up and down the tire tracks and they couldn’t get out and eat. Part of my role was keeping vehicles off the beach and it was an incredibly contentious situation for folks who had been driving on the beach for 30 years and now this little bird was getting federal status and they couldn’t drive anymore and they hired rangers to monitor the area. So early on I was really intrigued by this juxtaposition of protecting species in urban areas where they don’t quite fit. So I continued that theme and worked on graduate school work on how communities change over an urban gradient- examining birds, butterflies, spiders, and looking at community composition from urban centers to natural areas. And so that’s always been my interest but I got really burnt out in graduate school and wanted to be a park ranger for a while, so I came to Boulder and did that. Eventually I did want to do more and the timing worked out where my current Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator position was created and sent out for hire at the end of 2008. I applied and got it. It was really an amazing match because I’ve always been interested in how animals and people work together in the urban interface and was kind of where I planned to be going.

What was the process like for implementing the Bear Protection Ordinance?

In 2011 we held multiple community events that helped us get input on people’s experiences with bears and trash. We learned that there was not a real community appetite for bear resistant containers, and I started thinking that maybe I had misperceptions about community values and behaviors. I thought it was going to be a no-brainer that everyone would want bear resistant trash cans, and that didn’t seem to be the case. I was a little confused by that; it was a big learning lesson and I still believe we just had to make a better connection between a bear being food conditioned and then becoming habituated to people and then getting killed. So in 2012-2013 we partnered with CPW to do a pilot program where we focused on a small area of the city (approximately 500 houses) and we were going to hit them hard with education and give them a voluntary option of getting bear resistant carts, and then we hit them hard with enforcement to see if it would affect behavior change. That would inform whether or not we really needed an ordinance. What we saw in those two years was that we could affect some behavior change and get some voluntary compliance, but not at the scale we would need to make a difference. So we were going to complete the cycle in 2014 by saying we will need the bear resistant bins… but in 2013 four bears were killed, which really accelerated the push to have the ordinance implemented NOW. Boulder Bear Coalition was becoming more active around that time and we were getting some additional feedback that we could capture, and it was feedback into a kind of coalesced community organization that was a new voice. It wasn’t CPW and the City coming forward- there was now a third leg ot the stool which I think really helped show the community momentum.

How is Boulder doing compared to other cities living with urban wildlife? Are we successful in our efforts?

I think we are amazingly successful. We are really standing out in terms of success. We actually owe that in part to all those other communities like Durango and Steamboat and Vail who have staff that had an ordinance in place and were willing to share their successes and failures. That allowed us to learn from it and craft something that benefited from others who had test drove it out. I would say the thing that I think we’ve done better than any other area that I’m aware of is the not only thinking about implementation in a phased approach – so you’re not overly ambitious with trying to get it all done at once, but really planning it out – and having this relationship with Code Enforcement from the beginning in terms of staffing up in a way that the city could have continuous enforcement with an ordinance. I often hear that it’s a lot easier to write an ordinance, a good one, than it is to enforce it. It’s money and resources, and it’s a luxury that Boulder has that not all areas have. So we’re not really comparing apples to apples in terms of what are the resources that are allotted and their program. There’s not an Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator in every community. So that’s an obstacle that a lot of places have that we didn’t have.

Are you aware of any other regions that have a dedicated role like yours?

**Shakes head emphatically, no**

Tell me about some of your experiences as UWCC. What are some of your highlights and challenges?

The blessings are the challenges in some regards, where what I like about Boulder so much is the community engagement. It’s really hard to be a civil servant if you don’t know what the community wants if they’re not engaged, right? Because you measure success based on your delivering what is needed and wanted. But because we have a really engaged community with high expectations it can also be challenging for me to fulfill the expectation, because we can always do more. Which is true. We could always be doing better and be doing more, but that’s also the challenge: it’s very hard to be where we need to be.

As for highlights, I just really enjoy the opportunity and support to be creative in my role. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. We just have to do the best thing that can be done that is scientifically based. So that allows for some out of the box thinking and exploring and that’s pretty cool. It can be a really unique and supportive work environment to come up with new ways for coexistence where maybe other areas don’t have the luxury of working towards this stuff.

Final comments:

My role is really trying to get to the information of, what does the community want? And then I use that to build the ordinance. But the most challenging part is, what DO they want? Because it doesn’t make sense to build an ordinance that the community doesn’t support and won’t comply with. It’s all about figuring out what is important to you and how do we do that.

*Edited for length and clarity*