Aspen bruins end their trashy ways
Judging from the drop in the number of dumpster intrusions by bears this summer over last year, it appears Aspen bruins may be in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More likely, however, is that downtown businesses and adjacent neighborhoods have made concerted strides in securing their trash.
Last year, up until July 22, there were 72 instances in which bears broke into dumpsters in downtown Aspen.
This year during the same time frame, there have been 26 break-ins, according to statistics provided by the Aspen Police Department.
And there’s only been one ticket issued, compared with seven last year, which is the last resort after numerous warnings are given to individuals.
“We have seen a decrease in bear intrusions, which we believe is due to staying proactive and doing outreach early in the season to educate and gain compliance with the businesses,” said Linda Consuegra, assistant police chief. “We all want to do the right thing.”
The pandemic, which shut down restaurants and businesses in mid-March, gave police officers one-on-one time with owners and managers to go over the city’s trash ordinance, which requires that bear-resistant containers and compost cans be locked at all times of the day.
“It was a luxury to have that time and we contacted all the problem areas,” said Charlie Martin, a community resource officer with APD.
Last summer saw many repeat offenders who either had employee turnover and therefore they were not familiar with the rules, or their dumpsters are shared by multiple businesses.
More face time between officers and business owners allowed for more problem solving, like getting new locks on dumpsters or putting a camera in the area to be able to identify who didn’t secure the receptacle.
One downtown business that shared the same dumpster with eight others installed a compactor, and another restaurant where an employee was attacked in the alley last summer put in a trash enclosure, which prevents bears from breaking in.
On any given morning last year in downtown Aspen, there were several garbage cans ransacked by bears.
Patrols by The Aspen Times between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the commercial core revealed that many of them were not only unlocked but food had been placed on top of them, even next to stickers that read “Trash kills bears.”
That is not the case this year, as most businesses and residents in neighborhoods outside of the core are complying.
Martin said in the past few days on early morning patrol he’s seen some dumpsters turned over but the bears were not able to get in them.
Consuegra chocks up this year’s success to being able to educate people earlier in the season and them learning from last year’s mistakes.
“Every year we learn something new,” Consuegra said. “Continued education, being proactive and having businesses follow recommendations is making a difference.
“We want businesses to know we appreciate what they are doing to minimize bear trash intrusions.”
She pointed to new “collars” around certain trees in the downtown area that are popular among bears to climb when fleeing crowds.
By blocking the base of the trees, bears are unable to ascend.
It was a common occurrence in 2017, which was a poor natural food year and the bear-human conflict was at its peak.
A mother and two cubs took up residence in a tree on Aspen’s pedestrian mall in September for days, attracting crowds.
That year, 16 bruins in Pitkin County were euthanized and four were relocated.
So far this year, three have been euthanized even though interactions and sightings are down over last year.
Total bear calls into the APD last year through July 22 were 186; this year it was 92.
Martin said he has not witnessed non-compliance in residential neighborhoods despite the influx of visitors who are renting for a longer stretch of the summer and second-home owners who are staying longer and may not know the rules.
He added that the West End neighborhood, which was a challenge in the late 1990s to get on board to use bear-proof containers, is now the “shining example” of adhering to the trash ordinance.
Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County have mounted education campaigns for years, along with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, to drive home the message that any food or trash that can attract bears should be secured and that windows and doors in homes should be locked.
That means not leaving bird feeders out while bears are active, cleaning grills, securing trash in bear-proof containers, locking accessible doors and windows, among other steps. CPW has produced a “Living With Bears” page online to educate people.
Across the Roaring Fork School District, three schools achieved higher ratings from 2019 to 2022, two schools had lower ratings during that time period and most remained the same.