Bears have been bad news in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Bears have been bad news in Aspen

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Signs are posted throughout Difficult Campground notifying campers of the new restrictions put in place on camping in tents or soft-sided campers due to an increase in bear activity. The restrictions have impacted reservations for next week's USA Pro Cycling Challenge. (Patrick Ghidossi/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN – Bear activity has picked up considerably in and around Aspen over the last month, state and local officials say.

“It’s nothing like it was in 2009, but lately it’s been very busy,” said Kevin Wright, senior district wildlife manager for the state Division of Wildlife. “Almost every day, for the last three to four weeks, all I’ve been dealing with is bears. We’re getting lots of calls about lots of conflicts.”

Wright said bears have been problematic in the areas of Red Butte Drive/Overlook, East Cooper Avenue, Starwood, McSkimming Road, Difficult Campground, Bennett Court and Bennett Bench. Dan Glidden, wildlife enforcement officer for the Aspen Police Department, mentioned some of those same areas but added Hallam Lake to the list.

“In the last couple of weeks, it has picked up,” Glidden said, adding that he expects the situation to calm down in the near future because natural foods that bears enjoy in higher country are starting to flourish.

Because incidents involving bears have escalated in the Difficult Campground area, DOW and the U.S. Forest Service have temporarily banned tent camping there. Overnight sleeping is only allowed in mainstream vehicles, recreational vehicles and other types of hard-shelled camping equipment.

The timing isn’t good, with reservable campsites at Difficult sold out this Monday and Tuesday in advance of Wednesday’s second stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. As many as 140 professional bicycle riders will pass by the campground entrance five miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 on their descent from the top of Independence Pass.

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Fran Rupe, the Difficult Campground host and representative of Thousand Trails Management, said Thousand Trails and a campsite reservations company have been notifying those who booked those days to let them know that tents won’t be allowed.

“Some people are being sent to Weller Campground and some are going to Lincoln Gulch and Lost Man campgrounds,” she said of sites farther east of Aspen and higher up the pass.

At Difficult, Rupe said, bear sightings have been plentiful – about two to four daily. A week ago, a bear entered and damaged two tents at the campground.

“We decided to err on the side of caution and protect human health and safety,” said DOW area wildlife manager Perry Will. “Based on the bear situation in this campground, we don’t think camping in a tent is safe. …We want fans to enjoy the race and people are still welcome to stay there, but they will need to be in hard-sided campers only, such as an RV or even their cars.”

In addition to the large number of race fans staying in designated campgrounds, the Colorado Department of Transportation will temporarily allow camping just off the highways along the race route. Still, wildlife managers are concerned that the large number of people concentrated in these areas could increase the risk of conflicts.

Wildlife managers recommend that race fans planning to camp or tailgate along the route consider following these tips:

• Stash your trash: Use bear-proof containers when available. If they’re full, double-bag trash and lock it in your trunk or RV. Never leave trash outside.

• Store items safely: Store food, beverages and toiletries in airtight containers and lock them in the trunk of your car. Many bears have discovered that coolers, bags and boxes are full of food; never leave them in your tent or anywhere a bear could see, smell or reach.

• Keep a clean camp: Bears are attracted to odors of all kinds and will investigate anything interesting in hopes of finding food.

• Keep a clean tent: Don’t bring anything with an odor into your tent – that includes all foods, beverages, scented toiletries, gum, toothpaste, sunscreen, candles, and insect repellant. Don’t sleep in the clothes you cooked in; store them with your food.

• Lock RVs and vehicles: Close windows and lock your vehicle and RV when you leave your campsite and at night before you go to sleep.

As for area homeowners, both Glidden and Wright say many of their problems with bears are preventable. Most of the break-ins and attempted break-ins usually involve a cracked window, an open door or something else that invites the bear onto the property, such as garbage left outside and unsecured.

“Bears will look for opportunity,” Glidden said. “Residents need to be diligent. They need to close and lock the bottom-floor windows, even though it’s been uncomfortable indoors with the heat we’ve had.”

Added Wright: “A window or door screen is nothing to a bear – it’s like a cobweb. I’m tired of working bears; I’m not getting to do much of my other job.”

In 2009, DOW euthanized 20 bears and transplanted 35 nuisance bears in the Aspen area. So far this year, three bears have had to be put down, Wright said.

asalvail@aspentimes.com

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