Aspen’s bear problem subsides with winter; calls tripled from 2016 |

Aspen’s bear problem subsides with winter; calls tripled from 2016

A bear cub and it's mother up in a tree on Hyman pedestrian mall on Wednesday morning.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Aspen’s summer of bears is over.

That is according to upper Roaring Fork Valley wildlife officials who were inundated with bruin calls this summer that included scores of home and car intrusions by the hungry animals whose main food source — acorns — didn’t materialize this year.

“I haven’t heard or seen any (bear) activity in the last five or six days,” Kurtis Tesch, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said earlier this week. “I would say we’re done with it for the year, thankfully.”

Tesch and other wildlife managers euthanized 18 bears in the Aspen area during the summer and fall and relocated four bears, including a mother and two cubs that took a liking to a large tree on the Hyman Avenue Pedestrian Mall in mid-September and had to be tranquilized and removed.

That particular incident, which lasted nearly a week and attracted large crowds of gawkers, left a bad taste for the city police community resource officers who were tasked with dealing with the situation, said Charlie Martin, one of the community resource officers on duty that week.

“That was a fiasco,” Martin said. “(People’s behavior) blew us all away. It was disheartening.”

Some of the bear gawkers showed up with folding chairs and lunch, while others brought children they later put in harm’s way in order to obtain a selfie with the bears, he said. The behavior included chasing the bears for photos and disregarding police who asked people to keep moving, Martin said.

“I get it — they’re unique,” he said, “but this is a wild creature that weighs 300 pounds. You don’t know what it’s going to do.

“Maybe it’s the advent of cellphones and selfies. It mystifies.”

Wildlife officials ended up shooting each of the two cubs and the mother with tranquilizer darts and removing them from the tree. They were relocated to an area on the Utah-Colorado border, an official said.

Earlier this fall, Tesch blamed at least 95 percent of the bear euthanizations on people who don’t secure their trash or leave doors and windows open for bears to enter homes or cars.

At the height of the problem, wildlife and law enforcement officials were receiving 20 calls a day about bears from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, Tesch said.

In Aspen alone, police received 604 bear calls during the summer and fall, Martin said. That compares with just 204 bear calls in 2016, he said.

And while exact numbers were not available, bears broke into about 90 or so homes during the summer and fall, said Cathleen Treacy, statistician for the Aspen Police Department.

The main problem was a lack of food in the mountains, Tesch and other wildlife officials have said. A cool spring meant the berry crop didn’t fully develop, while a hot and dry June and most of July doomed the acorn crop, they said. That drove the hungry bears into town looking for natural food sources — like crabapple trees — as well as unnatural sources like dumpsters and people’s refrigerators.

Martin, a 26-year Aspen veteran, said the situation in town is much better than it used to be, with most people adopting bear-proof garbage containers. However, cutting off that food source pushed the bears to break into homes and cars looking for food, he said.

With an almost total drop off in bear calls in the city and county, along with colder temperatures and snow, Tesch said it’s safe to say most bears have gone into hibernation for the winter.

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