Leave the bears alone | AspenTimes.com

Leave the bears alone

Here we go again – another summer, another bear problem.

Bears’ natural food sources are in short supply once again, as they’ve been fending for meals more aggressively as temperatures drop and they prepare for winter.

By doing so, they learn to rely on a more unnatural diet, which means they are more prone to stay in Aspen for a longer period of time rather than return to the woods, where they rely chiefly on acorns, berries and leafy greens.

As far as we humans go, the pattern in observing these bears is the same, too.

At first, we might be a little scared of them. People will call the police or the Division of Wildlife. Bears are tagged, and because of the DOW’s “two-strike” rule, some eventually are euthanized.

Then we gawk. We take pictures to show our friends. We gather around trees and stare at them as if they were in town for the circus.

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And finally, we realize that these cute, cuddly creatures aren’t a novelty anymore. Instead, they are pathetic, hungry animals looking for their next meal, whether it’s at the downtown farmers market or in the form of crab apple trees in front of the courthouse or a residential trash bin.

That final stage is where we are now.

It is difficult to turn away from a bear when we see one. But we must remember that these are wild animals – and unpredictable ones at that.

Just Wednesday, police noted that yet another crowd was gathering near a bear on the outskirts of Aspen’s downtown core.

“That bear is now laying on the ground on 600 Hopkins,” an officer purportedly said. “There’s people going right up to it. Someone’s going to get hurt.”

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the bear eventually moved on.

But that incident speaks to the problem we have: The more that people hang around to bear-watch in downtown Aspen, the more likely these bruins will stay put here – because they’re too scared to come down from the trees or leave the yards where they have found refuge.

Literature handed out by the Aspen Police Department concerning bears encourages people to leave the bruins alone. “Large crowds of people stress bears and cause them to agitated,” reads a flier from the APD.

For sure, the APD has been on its heels the past few weeks, responding to numerous bear calls.

“Over the last four or five days, we have been dominated by bear calls,” said APD spokeswoman Blair Weyer. “They are on our radar a lot.”

And when crowds are in the way, officers are less prone to ward off bears with, for example, pepper spray or bean-bag guns. The officers’ jobs become harder because of the bear-watchers in the way, and the bears become as stubborn as mules.

District wildlife manager Kevin Wright agreed.

“The crowds make it difficult for the police officers,” he said. “Do you want police officers to spend their time watching the crowds so they don’t get too close to the bears?”

We encourage locals and tourists to walk away when they see a bear. That means no gawking or calling the cops because a bear is on your property (if it’s inside your house, that, of course, is another story). And that means no feeding the bears, just like we have been taught not to feed foxes or squirrels, either.

Wright noted that Aspen residents have “gotten better over time” when it concerns bears. But some of the same problems persist.

“Every single day, we get a bear report that there’s a bear in the trash,” he said, noting that the trash is unsecured. “And it’s the same address every two or three days.”

So far this year, just in Area 8 – of which 4,800 square miles cover a region of five counties, including Pitkin – 23 bears have been put down this year by wildlife officers, said Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region. And seven bears have been relocated, he said.

Those sad statistics should serve as a reminder that the gawking phase is well past its prime – let the bears get on with their lives before another one is tagged and killed.