Wildlife official: Shut door on bears in Pitkin County | AspenTimes.com

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Wildlife official: Shut door on bears in Pitkin County

ASPEN – Doorknob style has long been a matter of homeowner preference, but black bears may wind up dictating what sort of doorknob is permitted in Aspen and Pitkin County.

Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, recently urged county commissioners to amend the local land-use code to mandate round doorknobs, which are far more difficult for bears to open than lever-style doorknobs.

Overall, Wright commended the county’s code as it relates to wildlife, but panned its failure to regulate doorknobs as a glaring omission.

“Round-handled doorknobs is huge in my mind,” Wright told commissioners.

When the county’s land-use code was last updated, in 2006, it incorporated every one of the DOW’s recommendations except the doorknob requirement, according to Cindy Houben, head of the county’s Community Development Department.

“It felt [like] it was going too far at the time. It felt a little invasive,” she said.

Nonetheless, Houben said she will bring the suggested code amendment back to commissioners for consideration. It would not force property owners to change existing doorknobs.

The city of Aspen, with its own land-use code and as many, if not more, incidents of bears entering homes, will be watching.

“I think we all dread the day when we’ll be regulating doorknobs,” said Chris Bendon, head of the city’s Community Development Department.

But, land-use codes in the two jurisdictions are similar in many respects, and what makes sense in unincorporated Pitkin County may make sense inside the city limits, Bendon conceded.

“Bears don’t really understand the difference between jurisdictions,” he said.

They apparently do understand the difference in doorknobs, though.

“We have bears that just run around and slap lever-handled doorknobs until one opens,” Wright said.

Some residents don’t lock their doors when they’re not at home, or they forget to do so, he said. Bears don’t seem able to turn a tight-fitting, round doorknob, even if the door’s left unlocked; but a lever-style door latch is easy for the animals to open, according to Wright.

“Levers are just bear-friendly. They’re not good in bear country,” he said.

Requiring round doorknobs is a small step that could make a big difference, Wright contends.

“It’s just a minor thing, but I think it could have significant impacts,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com