ASPEN - We've still got bears in and around Aspen - just not as many as during the summer, when they were quite plentiful.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Kevin Wright said Thursday that the bears this year have been nearly as common a sight - others in the community might say "nuisance" - as they were five years ago: 2007 was a big year for bruins in the Roaring Fork Valley.
"Bears are still out," Wright said. "We're obviously still having issues with people leaving their garbage out in Aspen and the upper valley. We're getting a few bear calls in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs."
During the summer and early fall, because the spring drought caused a reduction in their natural food supply, bears appeared everywhere. The downtown alleys were full of them between midnight and dawn, especially in areas behind restaurants that didn't secure their garbage containers properly.
During the daylight hours, bears often could be found atop crab apple and other fruit trees on Main Street, near the Rubey Park bus depot, in the pedestrian malls and around the many city parks. Usually the daytime bears attracted a gawking crowd despite the warnings of local police. Often, authorities attempted to chase them away from town, but the bears usually climbed a tree and played a waiting game with their pursuers.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Area 8, a 4,800-square-mile region that includes the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys, has been a hotbed of bear activity this year. So far, the state agency has had to euthanize 39 bears under its two-strikes-and-you're-out policy on problem bears.
That's up 11 bears, or 29 percent, since the last week of August.
"Everybody thinks the bears ought to be in their dens (and hibernating) by now," Wright said. "But it's not unusual to have bears out until December, so people still need to be diligent."
Sows and cubs usually start retreating to their dens by late October, he said. Males typically begin the hibernation process in mid- to late November.
"I've had bears out in Aspen until the second week of December before," Wright said. "It has slowed down a lot, and the number of calls has dropped dramatically.
"Before they start going to their dens, they start emptying their stomachs. They don't feed as much. But if there are food resources available to them, such as trash or crab apple trees, some bears will still take advantage of that."
Wright pleaded with residents and business operators - even local government agencies - to secure their garbage properly and to use only bear-resistant containers. Unsecured bins are the primary target of bears looking for food, he said.
"It was a bad year," he said of the number of bears coming into town and creating various types of issues, usually making a mess or damaging property.
The number of bears that Parks and Wildlife has put down or removed from the area since 2007, along with information campaigns by local authorities concerning garbage disposal, has helped reduce their presence in town, he said. But it's not enough.
"We still have people not doing what they need to do," Wright said. "There's been an ordinance in Aspen for almost 14 years (concerning garbage disposal). So, come on, people."