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Bear activity at campsites has Forest Service on high alert at Chapman

Officials considered closing half of the campground above Ruedi Reservoir after a bear broke into multiple coolers; staffing up instead to monitor camper behavior

A bear rummages through a cooler on July 7 at Chapman Dam Campground. (Courtesy White River National Forest)

White River National Forest officials stopped short of closing half of Chapman Dam Campground this week, after a bear broke into coolers that were unsecured and potentially created conflicts with humans.

Forest Service officials on Thursday had considered closing the F, G and H loops, where a bear the day prior had gotten into a cooler at a campsite during the day with people around.

Prior incidents over the Fourth of July holiday weekend with unsecured coolers and another one on June 14 has the camp host at Chapman frustrated.



“Once they get in the cooler they want that food and until you remove that food they are going to keep going for it,” said the host on Thursday morning, who asked that his name not be used.

Nearly all of the coolers that have been left unattended and not placed in the provided bear boxes at each of the 83 campsites at Chapman have been Yetis, which are advertised as bear-proof.



Apparently, they are not without a master lock on them.

New bear-proof boxes sit in an area near the Chapman Campgrounds during the fall of 2017. The large campgrounds are east of Ruedi Reservoir and this summer there have been more bear and camper conflicts. (David Krause/The Aspen Times)

Regardless of that, coolers and all food sources are required by the Forest Service to be secured in a bear box but some campers have ignored multiple warning signs posted all over the campground.

“If you leave a cooler out, a bear is going to get in it, I don’t care what Yeti says,” the camp host said, adding that once a bear has learned that coolers are a food source they will seek them out, whether they are at a campsite or in a vehicle.

Forest Service officials met with camp hosts at Chapman on Thursday to discuss a possible closure of the campsites where the bear activity had occurred.

But it was decided to add more staff and man hours to monitor campers’ behavior and to educate them, White River National Forest Service public affairs officer David Boyd said Friday.

“We’ve been discussing things with the host, the concessionaire (California Land Management) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife about closing the whole campground, or part of it,” Boyd said. “It is hard for the host to manage everyone and all of campers so they decided they would increase staffing and have more of a presence in the campsites.”

Forest Service officials also will increase their presence in the areas outside of Chapman where there are dispersed campsites.

But within that developed campground, Forest Service officials recognized that there is one large bear that has learned where its food source is.

A sign warning campers to store their food due to bear activity is erected near the entrance of loop F, where bruins have been spotted breaking into coolers. (Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times)

“We know that it is a specific bear that is coming into campsites and is working the area for food,” Boyd said, adding that those who leave food unattended are creating dangerous situations for people and ultimately the fate of the bruin. “It’s about the campers around you, the campers who come after you and it’s about the bear.”

The Forest Service will monitor the situation at Chapman and can make a different decision if campers’ behavior doesn’t change, Boyd noted.

“Hopefully we will get some compliance and the bear will move on and find some berries,” he said.

The Forest Service has in recent years closed campsites due to bear activity and conflicts with humans.

The most recent one was last year when three small campsites were closed near Maroon Bells.

In 2015, the agency banned camping at 11 sites at Crater Lake, the gateway to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, after ongoing conflicts between humans and bears.

In other instances over the years, soft-sided tents and pop-up campers have been banned at campgrounds when there’s been conflicts between bears and humans.

“This is an ongoing saga everywhere in the forest,” the camp host at Chapman said. “We need to get serious about this.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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