DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been tracking the state’s growing bear population for years.

Mark Vieira with CPW said the department has several ways and metrics it monitors the habits and the population of black bears in the Centennial State.

“Probably the most interesting one is the non-invasive genetic work that we’ve done from 2009 to about 2015. Over nine different study sites, so this is in different types of bear habitat across the western part of the state. We used a technique where bears are attracted to a site with a smell, they get no food reward, but they have to go under a little strand or two of barbed wire to get to investigate that smell.”

Vieira said the wire captures a piece of hair, which contains DNA at the follicle, to identify unique individual bears.

CPW has a ballpark estimate that 17,000 to 20,000 bears exist in Colorado. Bears are one of the harder species of wildlife to track in the state because they aren’t as exposed or travel in massive herds like deer or elk. Based on data the department has had over the past couple of decades, Vieira said the bear population has grown in the state over time.

But as more people move into Colorado’s mountain valleys and settle in habitats bears have traditionally called home, that has complicated the equation for the population.

“We’re bringing more food sources as people move into these places,” Vieira said. “While that may benefit the bear in the sense that there’s a human food source there, we’ve also found that bears that associate with human habitation, also have a reduced survival based on living that close to people.”

As for bear habitats and where the population of bears is dense, Vieira points to communities west of Interstate 25 but mainly in the southwest quadrant of the state where the oak brush is prevalent because acorns are a vital hard food source for bears.

“The highest bear density we found were in that area west of Pueblo and Walsenburg, while we also saw pretty high density in Durango and Aspen as well,” Vieira said. “Back to the Front Range, it’s actually not fantastic natural bear habitat, but if you think about where all of our communities are, a lot of our human food sources that are right up against kind of marginal bear habitat, we may have contributed artificially with food sources that might have increased the bear density among the Front Range.”

Learn more about living with bears in Colorado and how to bearproof your area.