Bears incidents are down but euthanizations are up this year in Pitkin County
Bears incidents — ranging from simple sightings to encounters with humans — are down in Pitkin County compared with last year but more bruins have been killed in 2020, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s statistics.
Wildlife officers in Pitkin County euthanized three bruins during an eight-day stretch from July 10 to 18. A total of five bears have been put down by wildlife officers so far this year in the county.
In this latest stretch, the first bear was killed July 10 after it apparently got spooked in the interior of a Castle Creek Road residence and clawed a man’s face. Since then, a bear was euthanized in Snowmass Village after getting a second strike for entering a home and another was killed July 18 in the Woody Creek area after it showed aggressive behavior, according to CPW spokesman Randy Hampton.
A bear also was euthanized in Snowmass Village on April 9 for aggressive behavior and another was killed for a second incident on Cemetery Lane in Aspen on June 9.
Colorado has a two-strike provision for bears. If a bears enters a residence, it will be tagged and often relocated. If a tagged bear is picked up for a second encounter with humans, it will be euthanized — even if humans are at fault for leaving food or trash accessible to a bruin.
All told, CPW has received reports for 237 bear-related incidents through July 21, Hampton said. The calls can range from people reporting that they are nervous because a bear is hanging out in their yard to a forced entry into a home, he said.
At the same point last year, there were 295 reported bear incidents in Pitkin County and no killings.
“It’s less activity (this year),” Hampton said. “We started slower, which is good.”
The increase in activity recently isn’t limited to Pitkin County.
“That’s consistent with what we’re seeing in the rest of the state,” Hampton said. “Southwest Colorado has really ramped up, probably due to a more severe drought problem. In the northwest (which includes Pitkin County), we’re picking up but we’re not seeing anything that’s out of the normal.”
The increase in activity comes during a hot and dry stretch. That could be adversely affecting bears’ natural food sources, particularly at lower elevations. The western half of Pitkin County has been rated in severe drought while the higher elevations are in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Basalt-El Jebel portion of Eagle County also is classified in severe drought, as is the Glenwood Springs area.
A typical summer monsoonal weather pattern is forecast to bring better chances for precipitation to western Colorado starting later this week, according to the National Weather Service.
Hampton said CPW suspects there are significantly more bear incidents that go unreported because people fear CPW will euthanize the bear. The wildlife officers don’t relish putting down an animal, but they also are responsible for human safety.
The Aspen-area is seeing an influx of visitors who are renting for a longer stretch of the summer and second homeowners who are staying longer, but Hampton said he doesn’t believe bear incidents are occurring because of a lack of knowledge among visitors on living with bears. Human and bear conflicts are nothing new in the area and there is ample information available on how to avoid conflicts.
“Aspen is probably the premier bear habitat in the state,” Hampton said.
Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County have mounted education campaigns for years along with CPW to drive home the message that any food or trash that can attract bears should be secured and that windows and doors in homes should be locked.
That means not leaving bird feeders out while bears are active, cleaning grills, securing trash in bear-proof containers, locking accessible doors and windows, among other steps. CPW has produced a “Living With Bears” page online to educate people.
In addition, the U.S. Forest Service requires backpackers to carry bear-proof canisters on many parts of the White River National Forest surrounding Aspen.
“This isn’t an education issue,” Hampton said. “This is a ‘don’t-give-a-damn issue.’”
Bruins are sometimes paying the ultimate price for that bad human behavior.
“I’m not sure there’s much more we can do,” Hampton said.
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