Bear encounters prompt wildlife officer to issue plea |

Bear encounters prompt wildlife officer to issue plea

Aspen-area residents need to take immediate precautions to guard against bear encounters or risk late-night visits from hungry critters, according to wildlife officer Kevin Wright.

One house in Starwood had a bear prowling around each night from Thursday through Sunday, said Wright, who patrols the Aspen district for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. On at least one occasion, the bear swatted a lever-type handle to open a door and gain access to the house.

The bear knocked over a heavy freezer in the house to get at the meat inside. The homeowners were aware that the bear was in the house but managed to stay out of harm’s way, Wright said.

The bear “had the same M.O.” as one that raided several Starwood homes last year. It has a particular liking for ice cream and other dairy products. Wright said he figures it is the same bear returning after learning last year to associate homes with food.

The occupants of the Starwood house are working with Wright to try to shore up their defenses. To some extent, he said, it’s just a case of the house being a convenient target in traditional bear habitat.

Starwood isn’t the only place where bears are seeking free food this spring. A home in Maroon Creek Valley was broken into Sunday night when a bear discovered an unlatched bedroom window, ripped it off and entered the house. The occupants apparently weren’t home at the time.

Nothing particularly unusual is happening with bears this spring despite the wacky weather, according to Wright. Some might have emerged from hibernation slightly earlier than usual due to warm weather but bears almost always start to roam by this time of year. They will typically feed on grasses and other plants but will seek alternatives if vegetation hasn’t turned yet.

So spring usually brings a surge in bear calls. Activity decreases during summers when natural food supplies are often plentiful, then encounters with humans can skyrocket in the fall if the berry or acorn crop failed.

Wright said it is imperative for people in the Aspen area to take precautions now just as diligently as they should in fall. That includes locking first-floor windows and doors.

Most steps are simple and involve common sense. They include keeping trash secured until the day it is collected, cleaning barbecues, eliminating food sources such as dog food and bird feeders.

In the case of the Starwood house, a sturdy, round door knob would work wonders. Wright said bears will smash a cheap round handle until it flattens out and allows them to gain access. But sturdy handles that keep their shape are impossible for bears to turn, he said.

The risk of an encounter is greatest in “hot spots” like Starwood, McLain Flats, Mountain Valley and other places located where bears traditionally roamed. As development continues to spread in rural areas the residents need to stop conditioning bears to seek food in and around those homes, Wright said.

“People need to take responsibility for where they have chosen to live,” he said.

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