DOW officers pressure public to stop creating ‘bear problem’
April 25, 2002
Wildlife officers are concerned about how humans will behave this year when the potential is so high for conflicts with bears.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife is expanding its education campaign to try to get people to stop hassling bruins that get cornered in towns like Aspen and Basalt.
In a presentation to Basalt cops, animal control officers and a variety of others, wildlife officer Kevin Wright said yesterday it’s not enough for people to shut off the human food supply that attracts black bears. He also urged law enforcement officials to prevent crowds from congregating around bruins caught in civilization.
“Give it space, give it space, give it space,” Wright said. “Back off and get the people away.”
It is not uncommon for bears to climb trees in Aspen and occasionally Basalt when they get startled or scared by an encounter with humans. Bears with cubs have climbed trees on the Hyman Avenue Mall and behind Main Street Bakery only to be surrounded by crowds of locals and tourists straining for a look.
Basalt Police Chief and former Aspen cop Keith Ikeda said he knew of cases where people bought police scanners to monitor activity and rush to a site where a bear was cornered.
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A treed bear in Basalt last summer attracted people with spotlights and video cameras with lights, noted Basalt police Sgt. Don Calvano.
Wright said that gawkers only prevent the bruins from getting back into the wild quickly and safely. While bears are typically docile, crowds stress them and make their behavior even more unpredictable, he said.
Wright encouraged the cops to disperse crowds and even start writing tickets if necessary.
The DOW is also renewing efforts to try to get full- and part-time residents of the valley to do a better job of eliminating food sources.
Aspen, Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and Basalt all have ordinances that require bear-friendly garbage handling, such as bear-proof dumpsters for businesses and a prohibition against homeowners leaving garbage out the night before service.
People are also encouraged to keep bird feeders 10 feet off the ground, if they must feed in the summer at all, and to clean up barbecues and pet food. Wright said the bear-friendly ordinances are well-known by residents, but often ignored.
One big oversight is cracking a window at night. Aromas flow out of the house and attract bears, he warned. A black bear can pop a window off with ease.
Wright said the potential for “human-bear conflicts” is higher than usual this spring. Lush vegetation typically keeps bears from seeking easy meals in civilization, but a low snowpack and lack of spring rain hasn’t brought as much greening.
“Right now bears are hot and heavy in Aspen,” said Wright, noting that bruins have already barged into garages in parts of town. “It’s dry and we’re going to have a problem.”
Berries and acorns, the staples of bears’ diets, were wiped out by frost and drought in spring 2000. That resulted in record human-bear conflicts in summer and fall.
The problem eased somewhat last year due to a bumper berry crop, despite scarcity of acorns.
Wright said he intentionally won’t label it a “bear problem” because people are to blame due to their habits.
“It’s a people problem, not a bear problem,” he said.
To encourage better understanding of bears, the wildlife division is hosting a presentation in Aspen on June 18 by internationally known bear expert Stephen Herrero. Details of his speech will be released at a later date.