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Bears become fans of the fruit

Aspen Times Staff Report

Local bears are apparently not John Denver fans. Or maybe they are.

Aspen Parks Department workers had to remove five crab apple trees from the John Denver Sanctuary after hungry bears mauled the trees in their effort to feed on the fruit.

The bears tore off tremendous amounts of bark, resulting in what was likely fatal damage to the trees, according to the city. The sanctuary, created in memory of the late singer, is located along the Roaring Fork River near Rio Grande Park.

In all, city crews have been forced to remove about 10 damaged fruit trees – both crab apple and hawthorn varieties – from public rights-of-way and along the Rio Grande Trail, according to Stephen Ellsperman, natural resources manager.

Private individuals have probably removed additional trees, as well, he said.

“This has been the first time that this has ever been a problem that I’ve seen,” Ellsperman said.

As black bears prepare for hibernation, they are attempting to eat for as much as 20 hours per day, noted Brian Flynn, the city’s environmental ranger. Aspen’s trash has been attracting the animals for much of the summer and fall; now fruit-producing trees and shrubs are getting the bears’ attention, too, Flynn said.

The bears have returned repeatedly to some trees, mostly in out-of-the-way areas near the river, Ellsperman said.

City crews tried replacing some of the trees quickly, only to see the bears return and rip apart the replacements even though they contained no fruit, he said. So the city will wait until spring to plant new trees – of a non-fruit-bearing variety.

There are fruitless varieties of crab apple that provide the showy spring flowers, but not the bear food, Ellsperman said.

Some areas of Aspen’s downtown core – like the pedestrian malls and a stretch in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse – boast a number of flowering crab apple trees.

“Those are huge fruit-producing trees,” said Ellsperman. So far, though, the bears have left them alone.


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