Black Bears and Mountain Lions
Always bring a face covering when you leave home and maintain 6 feet of distance
- You will need a face covering to visit Boulder’s open space trails and parks. Always bring one with you when you leave home.
- Place it over your nose and mouth when you can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
- Wear it around your neck or wrist when no one else is around.
- Parents should help children older than 2 years old properly wear a face covering.
- Help protect vulnerable community members and each other.
Don’t forget: Keep the space in open space! Always stay at least 6 feet from others you don’t live with or haven’t agreed to have close contact with.
Please follow these other responsible recreation reminders:
- Visit OSMPTrails.org to see current trail closures, historical data that shows areas of high and low open space use and trails that are wider than 6 feet. See when trails are busiest through our Visitation Data Explorer.
- Protect first responders. Know your limits and don’t take unnecessary risks.
- Plan ahead and consider recreating closer to home as parking is extremely limited - especially on Flagstaff Mountain.
- Remember: Leave No Trace! Pick up trash and dog waste. Stay on trail and walk through mud. Step off if you need to maintain distance but quickly step back on trail.
- For more responsible recreation reminders, please visit the Covid-19 Recovery page.
Walking and Hiking in Bear Country
Your neighborhood is bear country, too!
- Heed warning signs.
- Keep dogs on leash, especially near streams.
- Make noise. Reduce your chances of surprising a bear.
- Avoid berry patches.
- Move away. Make yourself look large and back away, giving the bear room to leave.
- Report Sightings — follow the link under Black Bears and Mountain Lions or call 303-441-3440.
If You Meet a Bear, Stay Calm
- NEVER RUN. Running can make a bear chase you.
- Keep your distance. Back slowly away facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact.
- Slowly and calmly leave the area. Talk aloud so the bear will become aware of you.
- Be extra careful around a female with cubs. Never approach a cub.
- Never throw food to distract a bear. This teaches a bear to approach people for food.
- Fight back if attacked. Black bears have been driven away when people fight with rocks, sticks, binoculars, or even bare hands.
- Don't litter. Please dispose of all litter in bear-proof trash cans when you are in bear habitat. Remove it from the area if trash cans are full. Your consideration could save a bear's life!
- Report Sightings - follow the link under Black Bears and Mountain Lions or call 303-441-3440. This helps us keep both you and the bear safe. Call 911 if it's an emergency.
Bear-Proof Your Backyard
Once a bear finds food, it will come back for more.
- Bear-proof your trash. Keep garbage indoors until trash pick up or use a bear-proof garbage can.
- Feed pets inside and store pet food indoors.
- Lock up grills. Burn barbecues to clean them immediately after use and store indoors.
- Only feed birds in winter when they need it and when bears sleep. Bears love bird seed and hummingbird feeders. You can also string feeders high out of reach on a cable. This saves your feeder from bear damage too!
- Never store any food outside. Bears will tear open locked freezers.
- Keep a clean car. Never leave food, trash, pet food or coolers in your car. Bears will tear open doors and break windshields.
- Fruit-bearing trees and bushes attract bears. Harvest fruit and vegetables as they ripen. Pick up fallen fruit from the ground. Keep your lawn mowed and free of flowering dandelions and clover.
- Keep compost clean. Use a 2:1 dry:wet ratio.
- Educate your neighbors. If you follow these steps but neighbors don't, bears may still come to your backyard.
If You See a Bear in Your Backyard:
- Stay Calm – If the bear finds no food, it will usually leave.
- Stay Away – bears may attack when they feel threatened.
- Warn Others – Bring kids and pets indoors. Remind others to keep their distance.
- Scare That Bear – Make sure the bear has a clear escape path. Make lots of noise, turn on lights, bang pots. Don't let the bear become comfortable around your home.
- Remove Attractants – After the bear has left, make sure your home is bear proof.
- When to Call for Help – If the bear is threatening human safety, pets or destroying property, call the police at 911. Report sightings and encounters by following the link under Black Bears and Mountain Lions or call 303-441-3440.
Colorado has been home to bears since their earliest ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge. These large, powerful animals play an important role in the ecosystem. Wildlife scientists estimate that Colorado could hold about 12,000 black bears and zero grizzly bears. Grizzly bears have been extinct in Colorado since about 1970. All bears in the Boulder area are American black bears, even though some may not have black fur. It's not unusual for black bears to possess brown, cinnamon-colored or even blond fur! Today, increasing numbers of people routinely live and play in bear country.
For many people, seeing a bear is rare and the highlight of an outdoor experience. Learning about bears and being aware of their habits will help you fully appreciate these unique animals and the habitat in which they live. Where bears and people share habitat, following these simple precautions will reduce your risk of conflicts. Learn as much as you can about bears and their habitat. When you are in bear country, know what areas a bear may use during different seasons. Watch for bear sign (tracks and droppings). Be aware of your surroundings and try to determine if bears may be present.
People create problem bears.
Garbage kills bears.
A fed bear is a dead bear.
Mountain lions have been a part of the ecosystem of the Front Range of Colorado for thousands of years. They are large predators feeding mainly upon deer. Lions have proven to be adaptable and can live on lands adjacent to cities as long as they have ample prey and places to rest and hunt. Although lions do live on Open Space, they are primarily nocturnal and secretive. The chances of seeing a lion are slight, and even less likely is an attack by a mountain lion. Even though most people never see a lion, it is important to understand this magnificent wild cat that shares our natural areas.
What to Do If You Meet A Lion
To report mountain lion sightings, follow the link under Black Bears and Mountain Lions or call 303-441-3440.
- When venturing into mountain lion habitat, go in groups and make plenty of noise in an effort to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. Make sure children are close to and under the supervision of adults. Teach children about mountain lions and what to do if they see one.
- Do not approach lions. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give the lion a way to escape.
- Stay calm if you come upon a lion. Talk to it in a firm voice in an effort to demonstrate that you are human and not its regular prey.
- Back away slowly. Running may stimulate a lion's instinct to chase and attack.
- Face the lion and make an effort to appear as large as possible. Open your jacket or lift objects to appear like a more formidable opponent. Pick up your children.
- If the lion behaves aggressively, throw rocks, sticks or whatever you can pick up, without turning your back to the lion or bending down.
- If the lion would happen to attack, fight back. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. Remain standing and keep attempting to get back up if you are brought to the ground.
Mountain Lion Biology and Habits
The mountain lion is the only wide-ranging, long-tailed wild cat in North America. Most of the United States knows this cat as puma, mountain lion, or cougar (cougar is a mix of French and a Tupi Indian word). The mountain lion goes by many other names: east of the Mississippi — panther, painter, and catamount (short for ‘cat of the mountains'). To scientists, it is known as Puma concolor , or "cat all of one color." The mountain lion's coloring can range from a tawny brown to a reddish brown, depending on where the lion lives.
The mountain lion's face is very "housecat-like," and it even purrs. The mountain lion uses its long, thick tail for balance (during a prey chase, or climbing trees). A mountain lion has been documented leaping 18 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally. The lion has retractable claws used for killing prey and climbing trees. Mountain lions can live up 10 to 12 years in the wild. Adult males can weigh 160 pounds, with females weighing an average of 100 pounds. From nose to tip of tail the lion measures up to eight feet. Lions are found throughout the western United States, Rocky Mountains, parts of Canada, Texas and (remnant populations) in Florida. Population numbers have been reduced drastically due to encroachment and predator control programs.
In Boulder County, mountain lions can be found in a variety of habitats, such as mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, riparian areas and rocky foothills country. A male mountain lion's territory may cover 100 square miles; however, in Boulder County this is probably not the case. Less available habitat and concentrated food sources (mule deer) may lessen territory size considerably. Inside one male's territory, there may be two or three female lions sharing the area. The ranges of male lions never overlap. Mountain lions use "scrapes" (small piles of leaves, pine needles, and other debris) that are soaked in urine to establish boundaries of territory.
Mountain lions are solitary and seldom come together. When they do, it is usually to mate. Females mate every two years, with breeding taking place during any season. The male plays no part in rearing of the young. Gestation is about three months, with one to six (usually two or three) kittens in the litter. Kittens have spots and are blind at birth. They can begin to play when they are 10 days old and will visit the mother's kill at six weeks. After two months, the family leaves the den and at six months the kittens lose their spots. The young can remain with the mother until 18 months of age, at which time they must find their own territory.
A mountain lion's diet consists mainly of deer and elk. They can also eat mice, rabbits, squirrels, porcupines, raccoons, coyotes and grasshoppers. A mountain lion will generally not eat carrion. Domestic livestock may be hunted and consumed. Contrary to popular myth, lions don't sit in trees and jump down on people or prey. The cat will stalk its prey on the ground, or use a high spot to look for potential prey. A mountain lion will usually catch only one out of three deer that it chases. Any uneaten parts of a carcass may be covered with pine needles, leaves and other debris for later feeding. This is called a cache . Cougars eat about one deer every one to two weeks. Cougars eat weak or diseased animals and keep deer populations scattered, preventing overgrazing.
Adult mountain lions have no enemies other than humans. Generally, all the large carnivores (bears, wolves, lions) avoid confrontations with each other in the wild. Predator Control: As recently as 1960, hunters were paid a $50 bounty on the hide of a mountain lion. Now, they are considered a beautiful, powerful predator that plays an important role in the ecosystem. There is no exact count of mountain lions in Boulder County, so reported sightings are an important measure of the population.