Bears incidents down significantly in Pitkin County, slightly across Colorado in 2020
Eight bruins euthanized in Pitkin County last year
The number of bear reports was down slightly across Colorado and down significantly in Pitkin County in 2020 compared with the prior year, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The agency received 4,943 bear reports statewide last year compared with 5,369 in 2019. Wildlife officers euthanized 120 bears in Colorado last year and relocated another 89 because of conflicts with humans. Both actions were up from the numbers in 2019. Bear “reports” cover everything from attacks to simple sightings in the woods.
In Pitkin County, the number of reports fell drastically to 454 in 2020 from 948 the prior year, according to Randy Hampton, Northwest Region public information officer.
“Pitkin County didn’t get hit as hard as far as drought impacts,” Hampton said Wednesday. Natural food sources were more bountiful in the Roaring Fork Valley than in many other parts of the state, he said. Therefore, bears might not have been seeking human food sources as desperately in the valley.
Wildlife officers had to kill eight bears in Pitkin County last year and they relocated another 10. In 2019, 13 bears were put down in the county and three relocated, according to the agency’s statistics.
Hampton said the majority of the most severe bear issues in 2020 were outside of the Aspen core. “For the most part, this was bears on the outskirts,” he said.
The most memorable incident was when a bear got into a home on Castle Creek Road and swiped at the occupant, causing injuries to his face. That bear was tracked and killed by wildlife officers.
In another case, a bear started associating people with food and created problems at Silver Queen Campground on Maroon Creek Road.
“It was actually chasing people while they were packing their cars,” Hampton said.
A group of campers was loading their vehicle at the end of a trip and had the trunk open as they packed. “The bear grabbed dog food and ran away,” according to Hampton.
The bear returned on other occasions and tried to find food among campers. It created a hazard to people so the U.S. Forest Service requested help. Wildlife officers euthanized the bear Aug. 26, according to Hampton.
One of the incidents appeared to be a mercy killing. CPW received a call Aug. 31 “about a bear that was running in circles in a hayfield. It had been running in circles for 30 minutes,” Hampton said.
Wildlife officers discovered it was a female approximately 20 years old that was blind and in poor physical shape.
In most cases, wildlife officers try other actions before euthanizing.
“One of the things we explain to people is we don’t just come out and kill bears,” Hampton said. “There are a lot of other things we do.”
That includes site visits to provide individualized plans for reducing conflicts to general education.
Even though the number of bear reports was down in 2020, Area 8 Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita said there were still a substantial number of human-bear conflicts across the state. Yamashita was featured in a Q&A bear issue feature compiled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and available at cpw.state.co.us/aboutus.
One big push by CPW is to get people to change habits to prevent conflicts with bears.
“Being rewarded with food over time makes a bear willing to take greater risks to get the calories it needs,” CPW said in a news release about the 2020 bear report. “The next and most dangerous step they may take is to break into a home. In 2020, CPW documented 362 reports that had bears breaking into homes, cabins, dwellings and garages (forcible entry into a garage, not walking into one left open).”
In Pitkin County, there were 162 reports of a bear causing damage while trying to obtain a food source out of 454 total reports, Hampton said. That could be anything from damaging a house during a break-in to banging around a trash container.
CPW has a section on its website dedicated to making people bear aware and steps they can take to avoid conflicts with bruins at https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeWildBears.aspx.