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Bears breaking into homes at alarming rate

Jeremy Heiman

There have been so many instances of bears coming onto residential property this summer that the officer in charge of such calls says he can no longer keep up with them.

And he’s afraid that the high rate of bear/human run-ins could eventually lead to someone getting hurt.

Bear calls no longer seem confined to night hours and any particular part of town, said Kevin Wright, Aspen district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

He said most area residents have gotten the message about taking proper precautions when it comes to bird feeders, pet food and garbage. But bears are also attracted by the smell of food and are getting into houses through screens on open doors and windows.

Wright said the number of incidents has increased to a level he can’t handle.

“I’m probably averaging 10 to 15 calls a day,” Wright said. “I literally cannot get to them all.”

He said sheriff’s deputies are called in when he’s not able to respond immediately.

“I know the sheriff’s department is getting tired of getting these calls, but I can’t be everywhere at once,” Wright said.

In many of the incidents, the resident’s kitchen has been trashed, with food spread on floors, counters and carpets. In some cases, the bears have defecated on the floor before leaving.

Wright said most of these ursine burglaries could be prevented if residents would keep their ground floor doors and windows closed.

“We need to eliminate the ways they’re getting into these homes,” Wright said. “I realize it’s hot,” he said, but people need to find a way to ventilate their houses with fans and upper-floor windows.

In a recent incident in Aspen’s Mountain Valley neighborhood, a homeowner had left his patio sliding door open, with only the screen closed. The bear, a large male, pushed in the screen and found his way to the kitchen.

The bear went to the cupboards first, spreading powdered sugar over the floor, and leaving his big, powdery footprints throughout the house. He found other food and helped himself to it, adding to the mess.

Wright said it’s a little unusual for bears to go to the cupboards first.

“Usually, these guys go right to the refrigerator,” he said.

When the homeowner arrived, he walked in, not suspecting he had a visitor. And then he nearly bumped into the bear.

“He went nose-to-nose with this thing,” Wright said. Equally startled, both the homeowner and the bear retreated.

The man ran out, located a telephone, and called the Sheriff’s Office; the dispatcher called Wright.

When Wright got there, the bear had dragged some food out onto the deck for an outdoor picnic. Wright said he was impressed with the size of the bear. He drove the beast off by stinging it with rubber buckshot, he said.

But the bear came back to the same house that night.

“If somebody has a bear get into their house, it shouldn’t surprise them if it comes back,” Wright said. “He’s found an easy food source.”

Fortunately, the resident had closed the lower-level doors and windows by that time.

Bears are pushing their way into houses on McSkimming Road, in West Buttermilk, in the West End, in Snowmass Village and other areas, Wright said. A bear was recently spotted in Paepcke Park.

Incidents are being reported at all times of day Wright said, not just at night. But in no case has a bear broken a glass window or a door to gain entry to a house.

Though Aspen has followed the lead of Snowmass Village and passed an ordinance requiring bear-proof garbage containers, some people haven’t complied.

“There’s still people being careless with their trash and leaving their garage doors open,” Wright said. “We just can’t do that when we live in bear habitat.”

It’s hard to find a place to release a bear, he said. Most places in the surrounding high country are already occupied by a bear, and bears are territorial. And with the level of development in the county, it’s also hard to find a place where there’s not a house or cabin, he said.

“Some people think I can just come and trap the bear and remove it,” Wright said. “But it’s not that easy.”

“We can’t just remove every bear that tries to get into somebody’s house,” he said. “We need to remove what’s attracting them.”


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