Bears are everywhere in Basalt, but threatened pair of cubs is still free
Bear sightings are being reported nightly in Basalt – but the bruins involved aren’t the pair officials are hoping to see.
The two cubs of a bear sow shot by a resident of Basalt Mountain last Thursday have eluded capture over the last week by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
“They’ve been around people enough that they’ve been skittish,” said Todd Malmsbury, DOW chief of information. “We have set two types of traps to catch them.”
A yearling that was hit and killed by a vehicle on Fryingpan Road Wednesday wasn’t believed to be one of the cubs, according to officials.
A midvalley police officer said a second adult bear was shot and killed in a home in the upper Fryingpan Valley Wednesday night. Details of that shooting were unavailable Thursday from the DOW.
It’s feared the cubs could perish without their mother. Wildlife officials don’t believe they are old enough to fend for themselves yet.
The sow was shot the night of Aug. 10 by Rob Janssen, who lives on the south side of Basalt Mountain, outside of the town limits in unincorporated Eagle County, according to the DOW.
Wildlife officers are investigating the shooting to see if charges will be filed against Janssen. Colorado law would only allow the shooting if people were in “imminent danger,” according to Malmsbury.
Janssen has been interviewed numerous times to try to determine the circumstances of the shooting. The bear was shot and killed with a slug from a shotgun. The bruin was near but not in Janssen’s cabin, Malmsbury said.
A source familiar with the investigation, but unaffiliated with the DOW, said officials noted that the bear was hit from the side. A charging bear would have been hit from the front, the source said.
Malmsbury declined to discuss details of the investigation because it is ongoing.
Meanwhile, police officers in Basalt said they are handling more bear calls this month than they have for the last several years combined.
An officer working the night shift exited Town Hall at 3:30 one morning this week only to high-tail it back inside when he found an adult bear right outside the door, according to Police Chief Jim Stryker.
The Basalt police log listed five bear sightings between Aug. 9 and 14. The morning before the sow was shot, three bears were spotted at Sopris Drive and Homestead Drive.
Stryker said most of the sightings seem to involve two grown bears. One roams the area around Town Hall at night. The other concentrates on the Elk Run subdivision.
The bears are searching for food, but no close encounters with humans have been reported. “It’s just a bear being a bear,” he said.
Unfortunately, said Malmsbury, some people aren’t taking enough precautions to avoid encounters with bears. He advised people to bring in grills and barbecues, don’t leave pet food outdoors, keep garbage secured and bring bird feeders inside. Many people overlook keeping ground floor windows and doors closed and locked, he said.
“In some cases people know what to do, but choose not to participate,” said Malmsbury. “They essentially don’t want to change their lifestyle.”
Sometimes an oversight invites trouble. Even Town Hall was guilty of a transgression by keeping a filled birdfeeder available. Stryker said it was clear a bear had clawed at the ground beneath the feeder.
Malmsbury said it’s a safe bet that bear encounters will continue and probably escalate in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer and fall. The bear habitat and food supply has been hit hardest in the Roaring Fork Valley, Summit County and Gunnison area, he said. Grand Junction has also experienced an unusually high number of bear encounters. Bruins are coming out of the Book Cliffs to feast on a bumper crop of fruit. About 12 bears have been relocated out of Grand Junction, said Malmsbury.
Early frost and unrelenting dry conditions combined to wipe out berry crops and other foods for bears. That’s why they’re rummaging around towns like Aspen and Basalt for food.
“It looks like there’s going to be problems unabated until they go into hibernation,” Malmsbury said.
That could be anywhere from mid-October to mid-November, depending on the weather. There’s a strong likelihood that some bears won’t survive the winter because they simply couldn’t pack away enough calories, Malmsbury said.
Despite the dire circumstances, DOW isn’t even considering a feeding campaign for bears, as some people around the state have suggested. They will let nature take its course.
“This is not Disneyland,” said Malmsbury.
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