A bear of a problem
August 18, 2009
Out on Cemetery Lane Tuesday, a trap was set for a male black bear that is said to have attacked a woman inside her home. By the time you read this, that bear may have been euthanized.
As Aspen has seen many times before, this is what happens to bears that develop a taste for people’s food. If officers from the Colorado Division of Wildlife are correct in their hunches, this bear – the fourth local bear to be killed this summer because of conflicts with people – won’t be the last. Bears’ natural food sources are in short supply this year, officers say, and the bears are starting to feed more aggressively as temperatures cool down and they prepare for winter.
DOW spokesman Randy Hampton came to Aspen on Tuesday to speak with local media outlets and plead with the public to be more bear-aware. He made several disturbing observations that resonated with us.
First, the bear that hurt the Aspen woman Monday was “likely trying doors,” meaning that the bruin isn’t just stopping for garbage left on the street; it was actively foraging for human food by attempting to enter homes. That signals a bear that is habituated to human food and cannot be expected to return to the woods in search of berries, leafy greens and acorns.
Second, many of the bears now roaming Aspen were cubs in 2007, the last time we had a busy summer like this one. They have learned to rely on an unnatural diet, and essentially represent a “second generation” of garbage-feeders.
This poses both short-term and long-term problems for Aspenites, at least those who don’t like to see bears die:
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1) How do we get through this summer without forcing DOW officers to kill 13 bears, as they did two summers ago?
2) How do we avoid raising a “third generation” of garbage-feeding bears in a town that has become ground zero for human-bear conflicts?
The only solution for this summer, as far as we can tell, is for homeowners and businesses to take responsibility for anything that might attract a bear, from garbage to barbecue grills to bird feeders to pet food. We would also urge local law enforcement to cite violators more aggressively; fines do have a way of changing human behavior. Hampton suggests that people talk to their neighbors, holding them accountable for sloppy behavior, and that consumers patronize only businesses that store and lock their garbage appropriately, saying “it’s got to be a community effort.”
Solutions to the long-term bear problem are more thorny. Some have suggested reinstating a spring bear hunt to control bear populations, or feeding the bears in remote, out-of-town locations. Others want the DOW to just “stop killing bears,” but that won’t happen until Colorado changes its “two strikes” policy for problem bruins.
We certainly don’t have the solution. Neither the bears nor the humans are expected to abandon the Roaring Fork Valley anytime soon. Until there’s a change in law or policy, we can only hope that people will do their very best not to tempt the hungry creatures.
For more information about living in bear country, go to http://wildlife.state.co.us/ and search for “bears.”