Visiting Bears in Their Dens

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It’s a job a lot of us wouldn’t dare to do. But Heather Johnson does: she goes into dens and checks on bears. It isn’t for the thrill, but for the information she can glean. Johnson’s a researcher with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. She’s trying to understand how bears live, especially when they get closer to where people live. Her findings could help bear managers trying to prevent human and bear conflicts, which have been going up across Colorado. Johnson and her team recently visited a den, near Durango, where a female had holed up for the winter. Ryan Warner talks with Heather Johnson.

[Photos: Elise Thatcher]

[Wildlife Researcher Heather Johnson, in the den, with Bear Number 7.]

[Wildlife Researcher Heather Johnson, partially in the den, talks with Field Crew Leader Lyel Willmarth]

[Cracked and peeling pads on Bear Number 7's feet.]

[Field Technician Alex May holds one of Bear Number 7's cubs.]

[Wildlife Researcher Heather Johnson and Field Technicians (left to right) Michael Glow, Alex May, and Field Crew Leader Lyel Willmarth prepare before sedating a bear in her den.]

[Wildlife Researcher Heather Johnson and Field Technician Michael Glow prepare a sedative.]