Don’t let your guard down with wildlife around Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Don’t let your guard down with wildlife around Aspen

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

A sow and three cubs hang out in a tree on Aspen's Hyman Avenue Mall in 2012. The number of calls to the Aspen Police Department concerning bears dropped from 1,040 in 2012 to 23 this year.

Thanks, Mother Nature.

It's been a very different year for bear sightings around Aspen compared to 2012, mostly due to extremely different natural conditions in the area.

Last year, from January through November, the Aspen Police Department received 1,040 calls concerning bear sightings. This year, to date, they've received 23.

"This matches the trends we've seen with bears in Aspen," said Blair Weyer, the public information officer for the Aspen Police Department. "When they have enough natural food, the bears don't come into town. The late frost and drought conditions of 2012 are long gone. There was an amazing abundance of natural food this year. From our end of things, we're grateful Mother Nature cooperated."

This past summer, there was a bumper crop of wild berries and nuts in the high country around Aspen, including wild raspberries and strawberries, serviceberries, chokecherries, thimbleberries, acorns and pinyons.

Weyer said 1,040 calls last year were a record, but she said the numbers might be inflated from repeat calls concerning the same bear.

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The bear season is now winding down. By the end of November, most bears have had their last meal of the year and headed into their dens for hibernation. However, there are still bears in the Aspen area that are looking to add 20,000 calories a day.

According to Mike Porras, the public information officer for the Northwest region of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department, there number of bear encounters may be low around Aspen this year, but he warns not to let your guard down.

"Aspen is prime bear habitat," Porras said. "They can still show up unexpected. Their natural instinct is to avoid humans, but if food gets hard to find, they'll do what they have to do."

Porras said bears aren't after people, but instead, they just want a meal. The problem is, all it takes is one swipe from a bear to cause serious injury. A male black bear can weigh more than 500 pounds, and Porras said two years ago he actually saw a black bear that weighed 700 pounds.

"We're always trying to increase bear awareness and educate the public on how to avoid conflicts with these large, powerful creatures," Porras said. "People have to understand that feeding a bear could end up costing a bear its life, and nobody wants to see that."

Colorado has a two-strike policy with bears, meaning a repeat offender has to be put down. This year, three bears have been euthanized in the Aspen area and one in the Snowmass Village area.

While bear awareness and education have been paramount in the Aspen area, the public needs to be conscious of the dangers of encountering a moose, especially with a dog present.

Wildlife officials have warned the public that more moose are showing up in the Maroon Bells area. Moose were introduced to Colorado in 1979 and are still a relatively new creature publicly.

"They are extremely fast and powerful," Porras said. "They'll knock down whatever threatens them and will stomp on them.

A wolf is the only natural predator to a moose. If they see a dog, they will try and stomp it, and if a human is also present, the moose will see them as a pack and attack both.

There have been four violent moose encounters in the Northwest region of Colorado this year. This past July, a moose trampled a woman near her home at Grand Lake. The victim was walking her dog when she got too close to a cow moose and her 1-week-old calf.

Both animals had to be put down as they posed a future threat to humans. Wildlife officials said the moose couldn't be rehabilitated and the calf likely would have died in less than a day without its mother.

"Both bear and moose respond to human interaction," Porras said. "It's critical to educate the public on how to avoid encounters with wild animals."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com