Even bears move downvalley | AspenTimes.com

Even bears move downvalley

Scott Condon
Aspen, CO Colorado
Tim Kurnos/The Aspen Times

PITKIN COUNTY – First it was Aspen’s workers who fled downvalley, then it was blue-collar businesses, followed by professionals.

Now, even Aspen’s bears are migrating downvalley.

Basalt police have recently spotted two bears that are fitted with collars from an extensive research project in Aspen. Their sighting shows how far bears roam.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State University and the Wildlife Services branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture began a five-year study in 2005 to learn more about the behavior of bears in the Aspen area. They have attached collars to 13 bears this year and about 30 overall.

The collars emit a signal that can be used with global positioning systems to track the bears’ travel. Researchers hope to learn more about bear behavior so they can reduce conflicts with humans, particularly in years like this when natural foods supplies are depleted.

It’s actually not all that unusual for a bear to roam the 20 miles or so between Aspen and Basalt, according to wildlife officials. One bear that was fitted with a collar for the study wandered over to Paonia Reservoir, over McClure Pass, according to Sharon Baruch-Mordo, a CSU graduate student who is heading the study. That’s roughly 30 miles away, as the crow flies.

Like many Aspenites, one bear collared in study scrambled 25 miles over rugged mountains to get to Crested Butte. Yet another was found even farther away in Gunnison County in the small town of Pitkin, Baruch-Mordo said.

Kevin Wright, wildlife manager for the Aspen district, said there are an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 black bears in Colorado. They aren’t herd animals, so individuals establish territory. That can force them to roam long distances.

Pitkin County is considered “bear central” by the Wildlife Division because habitat is so suitable for bruins. The density in prime habitat can be one bear per two square miles, Wright said.