SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Twenty kindergartners in Kate Greenberg’s class at Riverview Elementary School learned some bare facts about black bears Monday.
The information came from Cindy Lawrence, a wildlife biologist with Bear Smart Durango, who arrived in the classroom with a taxidermist-prepared cub, the skin of an adult bear, a bear track preserved in plaster and sandwich baggies containing scat with remnants of berries, acorns or trash.
As residents of bear country, the youngsters, ages 4 to 6, were eager to let Lawrence know they’re familiar with ursines. But they paid attention as Greenberg repeatedly urged them to hold questions and comments to the end.
As Lawrence spoke, Chauntell Geary signed for the benefit of a hearing-impaired girl.
Lawrence’s presentation is one of the thematic units Greenberg teaches. She does one on the sun as part of science curriculum, and the bear unit fits into the literature component, specifically on separating fact from fiction.
“We compare how Cindy’s fact-based talk compares with what we find in Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” Greenberg said.
Lawrence told the kids at the outset that both the taxidermist bear, an 8-month-old cub, and the bear that belonged to her display skin had been killed by vehicles. The cub was hit on U.S. Highway 160 near Bodo Industrial Park.
She displayed photos of bears in their natural habitat, bears in backyards, bears going for bird feeders and garbage cans, and places where bears spend the winter.
The youngsters were able to take a close look at the photos and get up close to the stuffed cub.
“Petting the bear is what I liked most,” said Finn Skowlund, 6.
Bryan Peterson, who founded Bear Smart Durango in 2003 to educate the public about living in bear country, said 19 similar “I’m a Bear Smart Kid” presentations were made last year in Durango School District 9-R and Aztec.
Lawrence said the numbers will be the same this year by the time she wraps up later this month.
The bear cub, which was donated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in 2010, was one of 10 ursine vehicle victims that year in Southwest Colorado.
The taxidermy was done by John Gardner at Wildlife Expressions in Durango.
The “I’m a Bear Smart Kid” program was funded in 2011 with $2,500 from the Living With Wildlife Advisory Board of La Plata County. This year, the LPEA Round-Up Foundation donated $2,000.
The last point Lawrence made focused on the problems bears create for themselves and people when they become habituated to human food and begin to hang out in urban areas. Sometimes they invade houses.
A photo of a kitchen ransacked by a bear drove home the point. Refrigerator doors were ripped out, and food was strewn on the floor.
“We hope being bear smart becomes as second nature to the next generation as recycling is,” Peterson said. “Our generation doesn’t seem to get it.”