Be bear aware, or beware | AspenTimes.com
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Be bear aware, or beware

Conditions are ripe for an increase in human-bear encounters in the Aspen area this year, and even more so if people don’t mend their ways.

Kevin Wright, of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said he has seen ample evidence of poor compliance with bear ordinances in Aspen and Pitkin County this year ” just when natural occurrences make it imperative that people follow bear-friendly practices.

“Construction sites are being really bad,” Wright said. At a Red Mountain homesite, for example, the construction manager attempted to get workers to separate food scraps from construction debris. Some workers ignored the effort and a bear or bears rummaged around a huge trash bin, Wright said.

In another recent case, a person left dog food in a car in Mountain Valley and failed to roll up the window. A bruin yanked the window out to get to the treat, Wright said.

Aspen, Pitkin County, Basalt and Snowmass Village all have regulations that require homeowners and businesses to secure Dumpsters and other potential food sources, like barbecues and bird feeders. However, enforcement appears to be lax.

Overflowing Dumpsters are common in parts of the valley. Pitkin County has a complaint-driven enforcement system; it doesn’t patrol for violations like unsecured trash bins.

Wildlife officers consistently stress that once a bear falls into the habit of raiding human food sources, it’s nearly impossible to change its behavior. “A fed bear is a dead bear” is one motto to coax compliance from people. Thus it seems Pitkin County’s complaint-based system for enforcement of its bear ordinance is flawed.

“I’m just seeing a lot of noncompliance with the ordinance,” Wright said.

The game warden said he is “frustrated” because he constantly promotes bear-friendly actions but the message doesn’t get through to some people.

“There are a lot of people doing things right, but all it takes is one garbage bag in the Dumpster,” he said.

He’s watching July roll closer with fear and trepidation. The heart of the summer brings more second-home owners, who may not be familiar with good practices to avoid bad bear experiences. Plus, there are ongoing problems with some full-time residents.

At the same time, natural events are putting bears on the prowl for any and every food source. Flowering plants, grasses and other natural food sources are dying off and disappearing as an option for bears, he said. This means aromas coming from houses are especially enticing.

“This is usually the time we see higher numbers of conflicts,” Wright said. “All those smells come out of the windows. They [the bears] follow their nose.”

Plus, Mother Nature delivered a blow last month that could affect bear-human relations. A frost around Memorial Day weekend appeared to wipe out the acorn, chokecherry and serviceberry blossoms in some parts of the Roaring Fork Valley, Wright said. Those three foods are the staple of bears’ diets when they prepare to hibernate in the fall.

There was a bumper crop of the natural foods last year, so it was no coincidence that bear-human encounters were at one of their lowest levels in recent years, Wright said.

“We won’t have as big of a crop as last year, which means we’ll have more conflicts,” he said.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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