Area bears waking up |

Area bears waking up

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times
Bear calls are already coming in to the Aspen Police Department. The city reminds residents to follow ordinances for bear-proof trash cans.
Aspen Times file photo |

Bears are awakening from their winter sleep and they’re hungry, as evidenced by three bear-related calls to the Aspen Police Department on Tuesday.

Two of the calls were for dumpsters that had been knocked over, and another was a bear sighting.

“They’re slowly starting to wake up,” said Blair Weyer, spokeswoman for the Aspen Police Department.

The first signs of bear activity in Aspen foreshadow the months ahead, when residents and businesses have to pay close attention to their trash cans and other bear attractants in order to keep the bruins out. Failure to comply could result in euthanized bears.

Kevin Wright, Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager for the Aspen area, said there’s too much noncompliance in Aspen. He has been critical of the town’s enforcement of the bear ordinance in the past and hasn’t changed his tune much this year.

There hasn’t been much bear activity yet, but the calls that have come in are bears getting into trash, he said.

“Obviously, there’s noncompliance,” he said. “There’s no reason for a bear to be in the downtown core — there’s nothing there for them other than trash.”

A walk through downtown Aspen on Thursday shows open-top garbage bins all over town. Director of Parks and Open Space Tom Rubel said the cans — which are placed in bulks of three for trash, recycling and newspaper — originally showed no signs for concern. The city had tested the new style and had no issues before purchasing them.

“Then, the last two years it got really bad,” Rubel said.

So, the city asked the manufacturer to create a bear-proof retrofit, which took a year. The city tried it out but it wasn’t working, and Rubel said Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials weren’t happy with it, either.

They asked the manufacturer for more changes, but after eight months of waiting, the city finally gave up.

“That was this past November. We called the company up and said ‘we’re done,’” Rubel said.

The city is now hoping to order latched cans, which are already used in parts of the downtown core as well as in city parks. Rubel said the request should appear on the April 13 City Council consent agenda.

As the city cleans up its act, it’s up to homeowners to do the same. Weyer said the beginning of bear season is tough because people have been in the habit of not locking up trash all winter. Those who don’t comply face hefty fines, too, with a first offense costing $250, a second costing $500 and a third costing $999, plus a mandatory court appearance, according to city ordinances.

Weyer thinks the numbers are encouraging, though. Last year, there were 777 bear calls, 81 of which were categorized as trash intrusions. In 2012, a really dry year with a late frost that affected natural food supplies for bears, there were 1,040 calls, 104 of which were trash intrusions, she said.

There were a little more than 50 calls in 2013, a wet year with no late frost and plenty of natural food sources. Weyer thinks those numbers prove that bears won’t come around unless they’re desperate.

Wright thinks improper trash disposal is bringing bears to town, though, citing last year’s Aspen bear reports. He said there was a bear in town almost every day.

“People need to abide by the ordinance,” he said. “You need to take the extra time to clip the clips (on bear-proof trash containers).”

Wright is critical of education initiatives, citing a 2010 study in Aspen by a Colorado State University doctoral candidate that revealed the No. 1 attractant for bears was trash, followed closely by fruit trees.

“It proved that education itself is not effective in reducing conflicts, but that enforcement was,” Wright said.

Weyer said the city hires a bear enforcement officer every year who spends three full days per week doing nothing but bear patrol. There were 29 trash citations issued last year, she said.

“We feel like we’re out there,” she said, adding that Aspen is setting a good bear enforcement and education standard for other mountain towns. “We feel like we’ve made a lot of headway.”

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