2004: Summer of the bears | AspenTimes.com

2004: Summer of the bears

In celebrating the 125th anniversary of The Aspen Times, we are printing a story or two from each year the newspaper has existed – 125 historical selections in 125 days. This series is in conjunction with the Aspen Historical Society. Summer of the bearsBy Janet UrquhartWho’s been sleeping in my tree … and raiding my kitchen … and rifling through my trash …?Anyone without a bear story to tell in Aspen this summer is an outcast at the office water cooler.Ursine encounters are the topic of conversation at the grocery store, on the street corners and over coffee, not to mention at the police departments, where bear calls are as numerous as the huge piles of scat being deposited around town – the hallmark of a successful forage by members of Aspen’s black bear population.While some local residents and visitors revel in the kinds of benign encounters that make for a memorable photograph or tale to tell, other human-bear interactions have been a little too close for comfort – perhaps for both species.A growing number of homeowners are dealing with kitchens-turned-disaster-areas after a visit – sometimes multiple visits – by hungry bruins. Others have had their vehicles trashed – an unusual way to discover the ins and outs of one’s auto insurance policy.A few bad-news bears, though, have faced harsher consequences. At least two adult bears in the upper valley have been killed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, along with a third in Redstone; three others have been trapped, tagged and relocated. They are marked for death if they get into further trouble, which is virtually a given, according to one wildlife officer.At least three others, including a sow and her cub, have died on Highway 82, while two motherless cubs are now in the care of a wildlife rehabilitation center in the hope they can be released to the wild. The taste for garbage, though, may eventually spell their doom.The DOW has reportedly run short of traps to deal with what wildlife officials are calling the worst bear season in memory, Pitkin County has passed new rules on garbage containers in problem neighborhoods and the city of Aspen is contemplating a similar step. The situation is only expected to get worse as bears begin their pre-hibernation feeding frenzy.Bear activity doesn’t usually intensify until late summer and fall, but was under way this year by the last week of June. A late-spring frost, which destroyed much of the acorn and berry crop in the upper valley, is getting the blame for this year’s trouble.Aspen has always had occasional bear problems, but human-bear conflicts are at an all-time high these days, according to Jonathon Lowsky, county wildlife biologist.”We’ve never seen anything like this,” he told county commissioners last month. “We are seeing bears now doing things that, until recently, they had never done.””There will eventually be a human-bear conflict that won’t be pretty,” Aspen Councilwoman Rachel Richards predicted fearfully this week. (Aug. 21-22)