This is the story of No. 317, a female American black bear who is marked for death by Colorado wildlife authorities for simply trying to do what good mothers do—provide for her young.
There’s a special bond between a mother and child that transcends anything two individuals can share. In no way is this meant to diminish the love of a devoted father, but most moms will agree there is something else that distinguishes her relationship from others. A good mother is a nurturer by nature, but also a fierce fighter when it comes to her children. Nothing demonstrates this more than her willingness to protect her offspring, even risking her own life and that’s what No. 317 has unwittingly done.
Colorado is a place of distinctive beauty, with magnificent mountains, like the famous Pikes Peak, and huge expanses of forested wilderness. Colorado is also a place where humans and wildlife often cross paths and sometimes these paths cross in populated areas. This is where our story begins.
The woodlands near the city of Boulder, Colo., is home to an estimated 250 bears and where No. 317 and her two cubs make theirs. A severe cold snap during the previous year’s winter caused a major food shortage for the bears, forcing some to wander into populated areas in search of food. An adult black bear needs about 20,000 calories a day to reach what they need for hibernation and the cold destroyed a huge portion of their food sources.
No. 317 and her cubs were first spotted near a residential area of Boulder in mid-August. At that time, no one really paid much attention because bears and other wildlife do occasionally wander into town. This time, however, things were different because the shortage of food had driven No. 317 and her cubs from the foothills to the neighborhoods of Boulder.
Instead of simply dealing with a curious bear family looking for some extra scraps, wildlife authorities were dealing with three very hungry and potentially dangerous animals. The 230-pound mother bear and her cubs were eventually caught and tagged numbers 315, 316 and the mother, 317. At 230 pounds, the 4-year-old mother is relatively small since black bears can be upwards of 500 pounds but nevertheless No. 317 still poses a very formidable threat.
After tagging, No. 317 and her family were returned to the forest. In Colorado, once a bear is tagged, they become subject to the “three strikes rule” meaning if they return to a populated area, on the third occasion, they will be hunted down and killed by wildlife rangers. What happened next sealed No. 317’s fate and marked her for death.
According to wildlife experts, bears have the uncanny ability to return to the exact places they are removed from despite being relocated, sometimes, hundreds of miles away. Unfortunately for No. 317, this instinct led to the proverbial bounty being placed on her head.
On Sept. 16, just three weeks after the mother and cubs were relocated far up in the mountains of northeastern Boulder, the trio returned. Driven by hunger and her natural instinct to survive and provide for and protect her cubs, No. 317 became menacing, refusing to back down from the usual bear intimidation techniques. After several similar reports, authorities decided that No. 317 had used up all of her strikes.
Wildlife officers now have orders to kill on sight or capture and euthanize the bear. Authorities will try to rehabilitate the cubs, but if they return again, they will face the same fate as their mother when she is caught. Perhaps this is best, under the circumstances, but it still doesn’t take away the heartbreaking prospect of the death of a mother and the orphaning of her little ones just because she was trying to do the right thing; trying to do what nature programmed her to do as a mother.