The number of bear calls to the Aspen Police Department was above average in August, a month in which authorities also handed out more trash citations than usual.
August saw 209 bear calls, while the busiest year on record for Aspen police, 2012, registered 311 calls the same month. Thirteen tickets were issued for trash-container violations last month, compared with three in August 2012.
State Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright said the majority of bear issues in Aspen can be linked to improperly handled trash, though crabapple trees are also attractive to the animals. While these two sources drive bears into Aspen, the real problem arises when they enter homes and pose threats to humans, which opens up the possibility of euthanasia.
So far in 2014, Wright has put down two bears in the Aspen area and relocated two others. One of the euthanized animals was ripping into the side of a house it had previously entered through an open window. The other was breaking into condominiums off of Vine Street.
Wright said the low number of bears euthanized does not tell the whole story, however.
“Just because we’ve only put two bears down in Aspen does not mean there’s not much of an issue up there,” he said.
He cited the nightly log of calls dispatchers receive. In August, for example, he set a trap for a bear that had visited the Snow Queen Lodge at least three nights in one week. The bear avoided the contraption, and Wright hasn’t had any calls from the lodge since.
He said relocation, like euthanasia, does not solve the problem, estimating the survival rate at 30 percent after relocation. When an animal is taken from Aspen, it must find new food supplies, and it also faces competition from other bears, which can result in deadly fights.
“I guess that’s better than 0 percent survival rate,” he said, comparing relocation to euthanasia. “But the whole thing about trapping and moving bears is, Does it really resolve the problem? Why was the bear causing issues to begin with? I almost guarantee you it’s because of trash and fruit trees.”
In Aspen, he said the ordinance that requires bear-proof containers is not being followed. All one has to do is walk through the downtown core to see the noncompliance, he said.
When asked if the city of Aspen is following procedure, he answered, “No. The city’s own containers in the downtown core are not certified bear-proof containers.”
Five years ago, the Aspen City Council adopted the bear-container ordinance. According to Police Department bear specialist Dan Glidden, standards are based on tests that were conducted with grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, where salmon were placed inside containers and the grizzlies were timed to see how quickly they gained access. The accepted standard was 60 minutes.
City spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said officials are in the process of phasing out noncompliant containers.
Wright also said he has made recommendations to the city on how to handle fruit trees. He pointed out that thecrab apple trees can be replaced with crab-flowering plants that don’t produce fruit. The other option is to spray the trees with a nontoxic chemical that allows them to blossom fruitlessly, he said.
Glidden credited the uptick in citations and warnings with a busy tourist season in Aspen. On Tuesday following Labor Day weekend, the containers at the Rio Grande Recycling Center were well beyond capacity, prompting complaints to city and Pitkin County officials.
The county, which manages the center, notified Waste Management, which was backlogged with limited drivers on the holiday. A truck was sent at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday to clean up the area.
Glidden said compliance in residential areas has been good, but the commercial core is still catching up.
“The restaurants are full. They’re busy,” he said. “Most of them have been good, but there are ones that just don’t get it, for whatever reason. And we’re trying to find those folks and say, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
About 75 percent of the citations Glidden issues are for improper containers, while the other 25 percent are for unsecured or overfilled containers.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “How difficult is it to lock a Dumpster, latch it, close it, put the bar in place?”