Good human habits especially important as bears pound food | AspenTimes.com

Good human habits especially important as bears pound food

The rich and famous aren’t the only residents finding comfort in the exclusive, gated confines of the Starwood subdivision this fall.

A bumper acorn crop in the oak-brush hillsides in and around Starwood has attracted a heavier-than-usual influx of bears to the neighborhood, according to wildlife experts.

That shouldn’t be cause for alarm for Starwood residents, but it should reinforce the need for them to follow bear-friendly procedures, said Jonathan Lowsky, Pitkin County wildlife biologist.

One of the steps most often overlooked is keeping windows closed and locked whenever possible. Bears have a great sense of smell and find food odors irresistible.

“They get a whiff of your poached salmon and it really entices them,” said Lowsky.

Brush Creek Village has also seen increased activity. “People are seeing lots of bears but they’re not causing problems,” said Lowsky.

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Bears normally have a healthy appetite, but they really start mowing down food in the fall to prepare for hibernation. They are feeding about 20 hours per day and gobbling around 20,000 calories, according to Kevin Wright, a wildlife officer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Some sows with cubs have already started hibernating, Wright said. Boars may roam into mid- and late-November before settling in for the winter.

Fortunately, the natural food supply fared better this year than the past two, so bears might be less inclined to try to score an easy meal in trash cans and in populated areas.

“That’s going to ease some of the conflicts,” said Wright.

Along with a healthy acorn crop, there is an abundance of service berries and choke cherries, thanks to rains that arrived in the nick of time around July 4. “That saved the berry crop,” said Lowsky.

His intuitive feeling was that calls regarding conflicts between bears and humans dropped in Aspen and Pitkin County this year. He credits a combination of ample natural food and better habits by humans.

“We’ve had pretty good ? I wouldn’t say great ? compliance,” Lowsky said.

Lowsky and Wright both identified the Airport Business Center as a neighborhood of concern. Wright said some people have done a poor job of latching Dumpsters, and some have let trash overflow.

The Airport Business Center is covered by Pitkin County’s bear regulations. The county has a complaint-based system of checking trash containers and neighborhoods for compliance with its bear ordinance.

The county stresses working with homeowners and business owners to coax compliance with regulations. If cooperative efforts don’t work, violators get a warning for the first offense; a $350 fine for the second offense; and a $1,000 fine for the third offense.

Lowsky said the warnings are over for some parties. “It’s gotten to the point now where folks at the ABC are going to get significant tickets,” he said.

The violators are businesses, he said, but he wouldn’t name names. “It’s just a few bad apples,” Lowsky said.

Some business operators have taken the attitude that all they must do is deposit their garbage in a Dumpster, then “it’s up to the county to keep the bears out.” That’s not the way Pitkin County’s bear ordinance reads, Lowsky said. Dumpster users have an obligation to latch lids on their trash as well.

Lowsky and Wright said several steps should be taken in addition to properly securing garbage. Wright stressed removing bird feeders and picking fruit off trees. Lowsky stressed taking grills inside or thoroughly cleaning them and taking dog food inside.

“What’s better for a bear than Alpo?” he asked. “It’s got everything they need and want.”

When bears are encountered, Lowsky repeated some advice he recently heard, “Treat ?em like a movie star ? look at them and leave them alone.”

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