Aspen’s wake-up call on bears
It was eye-opening last week to learn that the state Division of Wildlife killed two bears – one that had broken a window and entered a home east of Aspen, and another that repeatedly broken into the Wildwood School, also on the east side of town. Local newspapers published photos of the bears dead on the ground after deadly injections of potassium chloride.These images of dead bears are a far cry from how we usually see these animals – wandering down the street, asleep in a treetop or even popping their heads in and out of local trash cans. Sometimes we joke about the bruins’ seeming dependence on our garbage, but last week made it clear that this is no joking matter.DOW spokesman Randy Hampton has compared the garbage-dependent bears to meth addicts. Once these animals get a taste of our refuse, there’s no going back to their natural food sources of berries and acorns. They also teach their cubs to scour the alleys and driveways of the Roaring Fork Valley for trash.The reality is we cannot teach bears to stop a bad habit that can often result in their destruction. We also cannot change the fact that development has encroached on bear habitat, placing more tempting garbage in their midst. The only part of this sad equation that we can control is what people do about their trash. Garbage must be locked up against prying paws, windows and doors must be securely shut and locked, and food should not be kept in vehicles. These instructions are well-known to any mountain resident, but still some Aspenites seem too lazy, careless or distracted to apply them.As much as we dislike calling for our local government to take a more heavy-handed approach, we think Aspen needs tougher enforcement of the existing laws that mandate bearproof garbage containers. A few stiff fines might motivate people to pay attention. We regret this entire situation, but this problem won’t simply go away. The bears will only get hungrier as they get closer to hibernation.Fortunately, there is a ray of hope from another mountain town. Not a single bear has been euthanized so far this summer in Vail, and Hampton says it’s because of proactive steps the town took after two bears were killed there last summer. Bearproof garbage cans and enclosures are mandated via ordinance, and Vail police are taking violations seriously – by issuing 42 tickets and 320 warnings so far this year, according to the Vail Daily.Clearly not all Vail residents have gotten the message, but no Vail bears have been euthanized, either.Maybe last week’s bear deaths should be Aspen’s wake-up call – a bit of a crackdown is in order.