Aspen officials up wildlife harassment fines

Aspen City Council on Monday more than doubled down on proposed fines for people who harass wildlife.

Instead of the recommended $100, $250 and $500 fine structure in a new city wildlife harassment ordinance, council agreed to match what the penalties are for not securing trash properly. For the first offense, it’s $250, the second is $500 and the third is $999, along with an appearance in municipal court.

The Aspen Police Department brought forward the proposed ordinance, which council passed on first reading. A second review will be put in front of council in the near future, when the public can weigh in.

Councilman Bert Myrin, who was able to get full support from his colleagues, suggested the price increase in fines. He said a $100 “selfie” with a bear is a drop in the bucket for a tourist who is paying $500 a night for a hotel room.

It became clear to local police last summer that educational efforts were not enough to protect the public and bears. This past September, gawkers on the Hyman Avenue Mall surrounded a bear and her two cubs for days.

Despite officers securing the perimeter and handling crowd control, the bears came down after nine hours in a tree only to be chased by a mother and her child hoping for a photo. It caused the mother and cubs to be separated, and therefore stressed.

Audrey Radlinski, a community response officer with the APD, said she would have absolutely fined the woman who chased the mama bear.

“In that situation it would be appropriate,” she told council, adding that the people who congregated on the mall had been warned to stay away. “The public has a false sense of security in an urban environment.”

Councilman Adam Frisch said he feels bad for bears when human beings show their ignorance.

“It’s hard to legislate morality,” he said. “It’s even harder to legislate stupidity.”

Councilman Ward Hauenstein agreed, and cited numerous instances of people trying to get selfies with moose at Maroon Lake.

“It’s stupid people,” he said. “I think the penalties should be enough to make a difference.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins concurred.

“I am actually surprised how ignorant people are in this situation,” she said.

Radlinski said her department plans on extensive outreach efforts aimed at tourists about the ordinance, the fine structure and the importance of letting a bear be a bear.

Human interaction and conflicts with bears are dangerous for both creatures. Last year, 16 bears were euthanized in Pitkin County and three were relocated.