DOW: bruins don’t need help
An unknown but vocal number of Aspenites want local governments to take steps to feed the starving bears that have been rampaging through town recently.
But both state and local officials think that would be a very bad idea and want the groundswell of support to simmer down.
“It does not remedy the situation, it just puts a Band-Aid on it,” said Aspen’s environmental ranger, Brian Flynn, calling the idea of feeding bears to help them survive a bad year “ridiculous.”
The idea has cropped up in letters to the editors of the local newspapers and among residents who feel sorry for the bears and want to do something to help them.
According to one local woman who insisted on remaining anonymous, there have even been indications that local grocers and food vendors are willing to donate their spoiled produce to the effort.
Aspen and the upper Roaring Fork Valley have been dealing with an unprecedented number of bear sightings and bear-human interactions since the beginning of summer. Flynn thinks there may be more than a half-dozen bears who regularly come into Aspen to rummage through dumpsters, and occasionally homes, in their search for food. And many more such visits have been reported throughout Pitkin County and in Snowmass Village.
The cause of this invasion, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife experts, is a lack of the bears’ natural food sources in the high country, combined with a growing familiarity with, and loss of fear of, humans.
Residents, well aware of the bears’ plight, have concluded that the best way to help the bears and end the intrusions into neighborhoods and homes would be for the government to mount a feeding program.
“A fed bear is a happier, more respectful bear,” maintained local real estate broker Chris Leverich, in a letter to Colorado legislator Russell George of Rifle. “If the DOW allowed volunteers to take food to designated remote locations, within a matter of weeks many bears would be drawn out of the urban areas, our back yards, and kitchens. If the bears were fed now, they’d have a better chance to go into the winter healthy.”
But, according to Flynn, such a program would only increase the bears’ dependence on humans and actually worsen the problem, because the population of bears would rise based on the artificial food source.
DOW manager Kevin Wright said that, even in a good year, the cub mortality rate is as high as 40 to 50 percent, and it rises as high as 70 percent in a bad year.
“It’s nature’s way,” he said, noting that the local bear population may have spiked upward in recent years due to a variety of factors, even while the statewide population has held steady at around 12,000 bears.
Among those factors, he said, is the decline of the sheep-ranching business in the Roaring Fork Valley in the last five years or so.
DOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury pointed out that Colorado has experienced five years of above-average moisture, which has boosted the growth of berries, acorns and other bear forage and possibly has caused a slight rise in the population to match the increased availability of food.
“Maybe we’re just catching up to what the area can support in a normal year,” mused Wright.
Both Flynn and Wright said a feeding program would be ineffective in the long run because bears would lose their ability to forage for themselves. And besides, Flynn said, such a program would be too expensive because the bears are feeding 20 hours a day right now and the amount of food required to feed just the bears around Aspen would be huge.
In addition, Malmsbury said, feeding wildlife is illegal in Colorado, so anyone undertaking such a program would be liable for arrest by DOW officers.
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.