Wildlife officer frustrated by Aspen’s bear-proofing efforts
Ryan Summerlin June 27, 2014
State Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright hopes that natural foods for bears is abundant in the high country this year because he sees few signs that Aspen is eliminating trash and other human-produced food sources.
Wright, Aspen-area district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said signs in the backcountry indicate that there is a good crop of chokecherries growing while serviceberries aren’t doing as well.
It is too soon tell to tell if there will be a bumper crop of acorns, a third primary source of food for bears in the Roaring Fork Valley, Wright said.
Temperatures at the elevations where the food sources typically flourish fell into the 20s last week. Temperatures of 27 to 28 degrees this late in the year usually affect the ability of plants to produce crops, according to Wright.
So far, wildlife officers haven’t responded to a lot of bear calls this year, but a handful of problems with unsecured trash in April and May suggest some local residents are ignoring pleas to keep their garbage in bear-proof containers.
“It hasn’t been terrible, but it’s the same old story: trash in Aspen,” Wright said.
Wright just returned from a trip to Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte, which have placed certified bear-proof trash containers in public places and where businesses and residences are complying with requirements to secure garbage from bruins.
“They just make Aspen look silly,” Wright said. He said he is frustrated by “the lack of compliance and commitment with the city.”
“Why do we have to battle this every single year?” he asked.
Many residents and business operators continue to leave trash accessible despite years of education efforts by state and local authorities, according to Wright. Aspen has required residents to use bear-resistant containers since June 2010. A ticket for a first offense comes with a $250 fine. A second offense is punishable by a $500 fine.
Wright was critical of the city of Aspen’s decision to replace bear-proof garbage containers in the downtown core a couple of years ago. Now the city is retrofitting those containers with covers that are allegedly bear-resistant. Wright said he believes he could bend the lids, so he questions their effectiveness. An official with the city parks department couldn’t be reached Wednesday about the new lids. City spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said it was her understanding that the Parks Department switched to trash-container lids that will deter access by bears. They must be pulled and twisted to open them.
Blair Weyer, information officer for the Aspen Police Department, said Aspen “gets a lot of new faces” each year, so some people aren’t familiar with the trash-container requirements. The city has a seasonal, part-time wildlife enforcement officer who has the discretion to try to educate people when he believes they are unaware of the bear rules and write tickets when necessary.
“I do know he’s already been to court multiple times this (year),” Weyer said.
She noted that 2012 was “the biggest year on the books” for bear-related calls in Aspen. The Police Department received 1,040 reports of bear activity. Only 10 percent were related to bears getting into trash, she said.
Wright said Aspen must improve in several areas if residents want to stop bears from being euthanized or relocated.
“Since 2007, we’ve removed a lot of bears from Aspen,” he said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s suggestion to remove fruit and crab apple trees has been largely ignored, trash compliance is sometimes poor, and some residents don’t secure bird feeders, barbecues and other food sources.
“We have to address those issues if we want to be bear-proof,” he said.
The city of Aspen has a section of its website devoted to “Aspen bears” at www.aspenpitkin .com/Departments/Police/Aspen-Bears.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers information at http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Living withWildlifeBears1.aspx.