2. Bears: Feeding frenzy leads to killings
December 27, 2007
The year 2007 was the perfect storm for bear encounters in Aspen.
A late-spring frost, coupled with early summer drought, robbed local black bears of their primary food sources. Bear sightings and calls to local police began in May and ramped up over the following months as bears came into towns and subdivisions in search of food.
By mid-summer, hungry bruins were dining in Dumpsters, breaking into homes and forcing Division of Wildlife officials to act on their two-strikes policy and euthanize animals with two or more human contacts.
There were a total of 776 bear-related calls to the Aspen Police in 2007, a number that reflects “problem bears” getting into garbage bins or homes, according to city officials. And police received hundreds more calls about animals simply wandering through town.
Editorial pages spilled over with suggestions, angry rants and desperate pleas from animal lovers and DOW officials distraught at the grisly task of killing the animals ” deaths they said were caused by human carelessness.
Aspen’s bear problem garnered attention from Denver news outlets.
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In late summer, Aspen and Pitkin County officials cracked down with new ordinances that levied stiff penalties against residents and business owners who fail to secure garbage.
But that didn’t stop the continued bear euthanizations ” when forced to destroy a bear, officers would first tranquilize the animal, and then kill it with a lethal injection ” a total of 13 in 2007.
Then in October, a woman living in the Castle Ridge Apartments was “attacked” by a bear she unwittingly cornered in her home.
“This was probably the most active bear year we’ve had since we’ve been keeping the records,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.
And it might not be the last, Hampton said.
“If Mother Nature stays consistent with these late frosts, we might be back in the same boat [in 2008],” Hampton said.
Aspen is prime bear habitat, and despite improved enforcement and continuing education, there will always be bears present, Hampton said.
“There are things we all have to work on,” Hampton said. And despite the good efforts of many residents, there were still plenty of overturned Dumpsters and strewn trash in Aspen.
“Some people did a great job, some people didn’t,” Hampton said.
Tougher ordinances, battening down local garbage containers and police efforts to haze bears out of town could work in a concerted community effort to keep local bears and humans safe, Hampton said.
But that only comes with education and ongoing action to keep bears alive and wild.