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Bears meet their maker

Janet Urquhart

Two bears were killed Wednesday night on a road near Aspen Village, and a state wildlife official said Thursday that more bruins may be killed before this summer is over.

Pitkin and Summit counties are seeing unprecedented numbers of human/bear encounters this season, though statewide, problems are minimal, according to Todd Malmsbury, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Localized freezes in June apparently wiped out much of the berry and acorn crops near Aspen and in Summit County that are mainstays of the black bears’ diet, Malmsbury said. Local wildlife officials say bear trouble is at an all-time high in the Aspen area.

Earlier this week, DOW officials set traps in Aspen Village, where multiple bears have been foraging for food in broad daylight and showing little fear of humans.

A sow was euthanized there earlier this week, and her two cubs were taken to a wildlife rehabilitation specialist. A sow and her cub were struck by a vehicle Wednesday night; the sow was killed and the cub died later, according to Malmsbury.

“We may well have to destroy more bears before we’re done here,” he said. “When it gets to the point where they’re that persistent ” breaking through doors, breaking through windows … those bears are going to keep coming back. The sows are going to teach their cubs ” we have to break that cycle.”

In Summit County, a bear tore through a garage door, according to Malmsbury. Reports of bear encounters have become a daily occurrence in the Aspen area. Earlier this week, a bear ripped into a camper’s tent at the Snowmass Creek trailhead; the woman inside the tent was not seriously hurt.

The incidence of human/bear encounters rises when the animals’ natural food supply is in short supply, according to Malmsbury.

Data kept by the Division of Wildlife shows the number of bears killed by means other than hunting jumps during seasons when the habitat is in poor condition.

In the statewide drought of 2002, nonhunting bear kills totaled 404, according to the DOW, up from 273 in 2001. A year later, in 2003, the number dropped to 113, Malmsbury said.

In 2002, the DOW killed 55 bears, landowners killed 83 of the animals, and road kills totaled 156. In 2003, when the bears’ natural food supply rebounded, the DOW was forced to kill 13 bears, landowners killed 26, and 57 bears died on roads.

When human/bear encounters are up, the end of the spring bear hunt in Colorado, last held in 1992, frequently gets the blame. The data, though, doesn’t support that contention, Malmsbury said.

The record hunt took place in 2002, when 857 bears were killed by hunters, he said.

“The DOW has found no evidence to suggest that the number of human/bear encounters has increased with the end of the spring bear hunt,” Malmsbury said.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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