Bears gone wild

Bears gone wild

The biggest stars from Durango may be tall, dark and rugged looking, but they won’t be signing any autographs. Last month at the 41st annual International Wildlife Film Festival, in Missoula, Mont., “Bears of Durango” won both the Best Human-Wildlife Interaction Film and Spirit Award. The conservation-themed festival hosted hundreds of filmmakers, scientists and environmentalists and featured 150 films.

Shot over the course of three years by Salt Lake filmmaker Dusty Hulet, “Bears of Durango” is a documentary that follows a team of wildlife researchers, led by Heather Johnson, as they examine human-bear conflicts along the urban interface. The study, which began in 2011, was funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is one of the most comprehensive research projects to date. In addition to footage inside (sleeping) bear dens, the film also includes several bear home videos submitted by Durango-area residents.

Apparently, the issue is one felt across the West. “Bears of Durango” premiered to a sold-out, standing-room only crowd in Missoula, and a second screening was added a few days later.

"We are incredibly inspired by the response,” Hulet said. “We saw firsthand its potential to start a dialogue about local issues, community engagement and science-based management practices.”

The CPW study helped dispel myths about bear behavior, while uncovering an alarming decline in the black bears, especially in areas with growing human populations expanding into traditional bear habitat.

“Bears of Durango” also received the Audience Choice Award at the 2018 Durango Film Festival. The film is currently seeking distribution and will spend the rest of the year on the festival circuit. For more info., go to www.bearsofdurango.com.