Another bear put down
ASPEN Kevin Wright is tired of killing bears. Friday, for the second time this week, the longtime wildlife manager had to euthanize an animal. This time it was a 350-pound male bruin that had become aggressive and repeatedly broke into the Wildwood School east of Aspen, smashing a large window and, most recently, punching through a wall.”I’m not killing a bear just to make an example of it. When I kill a bear, it’s because I have to,” Wright said. “Every single one of these bears that we’ve had to trap or euthanize could’ve been prevented. People don’t get the message. I’ve been turned into the executioner. … I don’t know how to get people to listen to me.” “Kevin Wright didn’t get into this business to kill bears,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton. “We hate the fact that we kill bears because people don’t take care of their trash, but there is no alternative. The only other alternative is that people pick up their trash.”Witnesses said Wright was visibly distraught about his task of injecting the animal with potassium chloride. “He could barely speak,” said school bookkeeper Anne Sullivan.Prime habitatIn a year when a late frost killed the natural food supply, more bears are getting hooked on human food. Even adult bears, which usually avoid humans, Wright said.
“Aspen sits in prime bear habitat, and we’ve had a massive food failure this year,” Wright said. “People need to take some responsibility for where they live.”Becky Helmus, director of Wildwood School since 1982, said the school has long had bearproof garbage containers, and staff and students are careful about food and garbage. This bear was “more aggressive than most,” she said.DOW officials set a trap that caught the bear Thursday night. Students were on a field trip when Wright put the animal down, Helmus said.
“I don’t like seeing animals killed either. It’s a sad situation all around,” Helmus said. “I don’t take this lightly.”And beyond moving the school to another location, Helmus said she was open to any suggestions about preventing a repeat incident.In coming weeks, Wright will set more traps for problem bears and promised “some aggressive action by DOW in Aspen.”More killing?DOW officials are forecasting more incidents in coming months.”It’s only going to get worse,” Hampton said. “The bottom line is, we’re going to kill more bears.”
DOW officials said they expect more problems, especially in early autumn when bears go into hyperphagia, a ravenous state where they forage nearly around the clock in preparation for winter.Hampton said he understands people are frustrated when bears are killed, and stressed that the state has a strict bear policy designed for safety.”People are the root of a lot of these problems,” Hampton said. Wright and other DOW officials did congratulate many people who are taking steps to secure their garbage, stressing that it only takes one person being careless to attract bears.”I don’t think anyone in this town can tell me everything’s buttoned up. There are perpetual violators,” Wright said. “What does it take? Does it take me killing more bears? If people think I enjoy this, they’ve got another thing coming. I don’t.”
Why not relocate?The DOW does relocate bears – on the same day officials euthanized the bear at the Wildwood School, they trapped a 300-pound male in Aspen and transported the animal to an area west of Glenwood Springs.Hampton said transporting bears doesn’t always work. With the boom in development, there are few places to drop bears that aren’t already crowded with established animals – territorial fights often result in the death of younger animals. And there are few areas far enough from humans where the hungry bears don’t go back to their old ways, especially during a “bad food” year, he said.”We as a department of wildlife do not regulate people’s trash,” Hampton said, that is up to cities and counties.Hampton said if people are angry about the situation, they can contact the DOW about forming a “Bear Aware” team of residents who educate their neighbors about the issue.Successful Bear Aware teams operate in Glenwood Springs, Parachute and Debeque, but not yet in Aspen, Hampton said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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