Local wildlife biologist teaches coexistence

Wildlife biologist and Buena Vista native Cindy Lawrence will share her bear biology expertise locally for the first time in two separate presentations, Sept. 7 and 16.

Lawrence grew up primarily around Buena Vista; she believes that being raised in the mountains and spending time in the woods daily as a child led her naturally to biological studies. “My dad was a veterinarian so I have a love of animals. I didn’t choose the veterinary route; I figured wild animals were just as good.”

She has a degree in biology from Humboldt State in northern Calif. and spent the past 24 years working with wildlife, first seasonally with the U.S. Forest Service, then later with the Bureau of Land Management. Currently, Lawrence earns a living via her own business, Lawrence Ecological Services  working primarily on Native American reservations in Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. and with nonprofits. She offers consulting for projects that may impact threatened and endangered species, and she’s coordinating research and volunteer efforts toward the Central Colorado Conservancy’s Lewis’ Woodpecker project, funded through a grant from Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

She created her Living with Bears educational program when she was part of Bear Smart in Durango from 2012 to 2015. “There’s basically an insane bear population in Durango; there’s a lot of human-bear contact, so Bear Smart came in to teach people not to feed bears. We went into schools and taught little ones about bear biology and how to avoid human-bear conflict.”

Her free presentations at 7 p.m. at the Buena Vista Community Center on Sept. 7 and the Salida Community Center on Sept. 16 will center on black bear susceptibility to interactions with people – noting in particular the increased recent occurrences of these encounters in Chaffee County.

“This is important because I keep hearing of incidences of people having bears in their trash or at their bird feeders,” Lawrence remarked. She went on to explain that seeing more activity than usual this summer is due to unique weather patterns last spring. A late snow and a late freeze destroyed early blossoms and subsequently destroyed the fall food crop for bears.

Lawrence noted that, if bears and humans have an interaction, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife authorities frequently receive a call to come out where the bear has been sighted. At that time an assessment is made to determine if the bear is posing an immediate threat. If not, the bear is tagged and released into the wild. But if the bear returns and causes trouble or breaks into a house, there’s a “two strikes and you’re out rule,” meaning, the bear is then euthanized. Thus, Lawrence’s aim with the talk is to educate the community not only on bear biology, but also on what to do with residential trash and bird feeders in populated areas to avoid the necessity of destroying bears.

The 45-minute lecture and slide presentation, sponsored by the Central Colorado Conservancy, is geared toward high school ages and up, but all ages may attend. The presentation will conclude with time for Q & A. For more information visit CentralColoradoConservancy.org.