DOW expects bear deaths to pile up |

DOW expects bear deaths to pile up

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

PITKIN COUNTY State wildlife officers have come to the grim conclusion that they will have to kill more black bears in Pitkin County this year than the 12 euthanized in 2002.Six bears had been killed by wildlife officers in the county so far this year as of Friday, said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton. That high level bodes ill for the late summer and early fall, when voracious bruins will feed for 20 hours per day trying to add enough fat to survive winter hibernation.Wildlife officers fear the number of conflicts will climb because there is a shortage of natural foods because of a late frost and dry conditions. Hungry bruins will be easily attracted to human sources of food.

“We’re getting 20 calls per day minimum,” Hampton said, referring to bear calls from Pitkin County homeowners. “Many of those calls are for bears breaking into homes. Those are cases where we will put bears down.”Hampton said the 12 bears euthanized in 2002 was the highest number in recent history.There’s been a public outcry over the high number of human-bear encounters. Hampton said the wildlife division receives calls every day to its Glenwood Springs office, regional headquarters in Grand Junction and state headquarters in Denver about its policy to kill bears when they break into a residence. The agency also has a two-strike policy where “nuisance” bears are trapped and collared the first time they create trouble, then killed if caught again.The exact number of calls isn’t tracked, but Hampton said his experience indicates sentiments are evenly split between people who don’t want the wildlife division killing bears and those who feel bears should be killed whenever they invade human foods sources. The division among Aspenites is more like 70 percent opposed to killing bears and 30 percent in favor of an aggressive policy, Hampton said.

Wildlife officers haven’t been popular this summer in Pitkin County, Hampton said, even though the division believes it is simply doing its job. The agency used to remain quiet about euthanizing bears, but it’s allowed reporters access to the process this year in hopes that homeowners will see a connection between their actions and bears’ deaths, he said. The division maintains that bears get habituated to associating humans and homes with food when homeowners don’t secure trash, or clean grills, keep pet food indoors, and secure windows and doors.A bear that gained access to food through unlocked doors can evolve into a bear that breaks into homes, according to Perry Will, the top DOW official for the area that includes the Roaring Fork Valley.Hampton said wildlife officers aren’t trying to win a popularity contest. They want compliance among Aspen citizens with good bear practices.

“It’s all right to flip me off as I drive through town as long as you put your trash away and educate your neighbors,” Hampton said. “People want to lash out at us rather than deal with the problem. It’s a community problem and one or two people can mess it up for everyone.”The wildlife division plans to make a direct appeal to Aspenites to comply with bear-friendly rules. A public meeting will be held this summer, probably before the end of August, Hampton said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is