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Bear incidents are on the rise

John Colson

Bears have been breaking into homes, ripping apart dumpsters, temporarily trapping people in cars and increasingly creating mild havoc this summer, according to a Pitkin County deputy sheriff and a state wildlife officer.

Two bears have been killed because of the conflicts with civilization, although no human injuries have occurred, officials say, and it may get worse before it gets better.

A total of 63 bear “incidents” have been reported in Pitkin County since May 1, which Deputy Sheriff Jeff Lumsden said is an increase over the numbers reported by the same time last year.

“I think there are many, many more calls,” Lumsden estimated, explaining that an exact comparison of the annual reports has not been compiled.

Lumsden only had statistics for Pitkin County, but said he believes similar statistical increases are being experienced in the city of Aspen and the town of Snowmass Village. Wildlife reports from those towns could not be obtained on Friday, and the wildlife officers there could not be reached for comment.

The calls on record with Pitkin County include a high number of sightings and encounters in the Aspen Airport Business Center area, as well as just about every neighborhood adjacent to the Aspen city limits. Many are just sightings, but there also are reports of families trapped in cars while bears lumber nearby; numerous cases of bears breaking into homes; and a high number of sightings of she-bears and their cubs roaming through neighborhoods.

In just the last week, Lumsden said, bears were reported rummaging around the ground floor of a home in the Willoughby Way neighborhood, and the homeowner called to say he was stranded upstairs and needed help.

By the time deputies arrived, though the bear had managed to find its way out of the house – but not before leaving behind a deposit of the scatological variety.

Another call came in from the Maroon Creek Road area, and a deputy came close to colliding with the lumbering beast as he was getting ready to enter the house. The bear retreated, helped along with a blast from a “bean-bag shotgun” wielded by the deputy.

And still another report came in from the Faraway Road area near Snowmass Village, again with no injuries or serious damage reported.

“It’s happening a lot,” Lumsden said, noting that the animal control crews of the three upper valley jurisdictions have been kept pretty busy for weeks now.

“Sooner or later,” Lumsden predicted, “there will be a serious confrontation.”

But so far, he added, “No one has been injured, to my knowledge.”

Colorado Division of Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright confirmed that the bears are running out of food in the high country, because of the dry conditions in the early spring. Wright said the high country grasses seem to have cured early, forage is not as abundant as it normally is at this time, and that the annual complement of fruits and berries has not yet appeared, leaving the bears with less food than usual.

This leaves the bears with little option other than heading for civilization to see what goodies can be had, Wright said.

Lumsden said a lot of homeowners have complied with requests to “bear-proof” their garbage containers, which is viewed as one of the best ways to wean the bears from a dependence on garbage over the long haul. But Wright said too many homeowners are still too careless with such things as garbage, bird feeders and pet food bowls left outside

The Colorado D.O.W., the U.S. Forest Service and local law enforcement agencies all have brochures and packets information about what to do in case of a bear encounter, and on ways to prevent such encounters from occurring.


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