Free movies offered in bear campaign |

Free movies offered in bear campaign

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A summer-long campaign to educate those living in bear country will kick off this month with free movies.

The Roaring Fork Bear Awareness Team hopes three screenings of “The Bear” will put residents on alert for wandering wildlife. The movie, a story of an orphaned bear cub attempting to live on its own in the wild, will be shown at 7:30 p.m. on May 14 at the Wheeler Opera House. The other screenings will be at Basalt Middle School on May 15 at 7 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on June 8 at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

“This is the first year we’ve decided to really make a major effort because, in the last three years, there have been a lot of conflicts,” said Jonathan Lowsky, Pitkin County wildlife biologist and a member of the Bear Awareness Team. “We are trying to educate the public that we live in bear habitat, and the bears will always be here and we need to learn how to coexist with them.”

The team came together on an informal basis in the fall of 1999, Lowsky said, just a few months after a black bear and her two cubs were shot by state wildlife officials after raiding a Snowmass Village neighborhood. Public outcry over the shootings spurred city and county officials to work on animal protection ordinances to help prevent future tragedies.

Once the ordinances were approved, and after bear-proof trash cans became mandatory, the Bear Awareness Team decided to move on to educational efforts. The team sponsored a presentation by a bear expert last summer, and the event proved so popular that the Bear Awareness Team expanded their efforts even more.

Television and radio ads alike have cropped up in the past few weeks to remind locals of the dangers bears face when they amble into town. And this year, aside from the free movie screenings, the team will sponsor a series of lectures, a bear-themed fun run in Basalt and a number of educational booths at the Jazz-Aspen Festival and other local fairs. The peak of the summer campaign will feature a bear-awareness day at Paepcke Park in mid-June.

Many of the team’s educational materials teach people how to react if they encounter a bear in their neighborhood. Though black bears are not considered to be dangerous, they should be given some space in certain situations, Lowsky said – for example, if a bruin is found rummaging in a Dumpster.

“That’s when you need to give that bear a wide berth,” he said. “If they’re hungry and they found a good food source, they’re going to be protective of it.”

Paraphrasing the motto of another wildlife official, Lowsky said it’s best to “treat [bears] like a movie star: Notice they’re there and be on your merry way.”

Attending an awareness team event might save a bear’s life – and save a DOW official the pain of having to kill an innocent animal, Lowsky said.

“It’s the wildlife managers from the Division of Wildlife that have to kill these bears when the public is careless,” he said. “You can imagine what it’s like to see a grown man having to put a bullet in a 7-pound cub’s head because somebody was too lazy to close their trash cans or bring it in at night.”

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