Wildlife officials: Even with abundant natural foods for bears around Aspen, people need to secure sources

The number of apples makes the branches bow on this tree on Homestead Drive in Basalt. Even with an abundance of natural foods, humans need to secure food sources from bears.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Wildlife officials are hopeful that the ripening of favorite foods of bears will ease the high number of conflicts occurring on a nightly basis in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

But even with an abundance of natural foods such as serviceberries, choke cherries and acorns, people still must eliminate easy food sources that tempt bruins, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita.

Yamashita said wildlife officials suspect Aspen and Snowmass Village may be seeing a late summer surge in conflicts with bears because natural foods are late to mature this year.

The heavy snow year combined with a wet, cool spring delayed development of many food sources that bears love, he said.

“Bears aren’t going to take off a month-and-a-half from feeding.” — Matt Yamashita, CPW

“We’re seeing pockets where there is good food but generally it’s a month-and-a-half late,” Yamashita said. “Bears aren’t going to take off a month and a half from feeding.”

So the bruins are seeking the easiest food sources. That means they are raiding trash dumpsters that aren’t property closed; getting into pet food, bird feeders and grills left outdoors; breaking into homes where windows and doors sometimes aren’t properly secured; and breaking into vehicles where people left food.

Late Sunday night, an Aspen man was bitten by a bear that was in a dumpster behind a downtown restaurant. It was the third time this year in Aspen someone has been harmed by a bear.

Bears are smart animals that don’t forget food sources, Yamashita said. So if serviceberries aren’t ripe yet, they will go dumpster diving and if acorns are late, they will break into homes.

The best-case scenario is a proliferation of natural foods comes available real soon and bears retreat to the woods, Yamashita said. Fruit trees are already bowing with prolific amounts of bounty.

Yamashita said abundant natural food sources don’t automatically mean bears will quit trying to raid human sources. Last year’s drought resulted in widespread crop failure so wildlife officers anticipated a surge in human-bear conflicts in the fall. Instead, it turned out to be a year with one of the least amounts of problems in a decade, Yamashita said.

Likewise, even with abundant natural foods this year, bears will still go the easy route. If people continue to make food available, bears will go for it.

“You can’t untrain a bear,” Yamashita said.

He and other wildlife officials were critical earlier this month of sloppy habits by residents of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. There have been between three to five break-ins of residences in Pitkin County per night this summer. CPW officials are frustrated trying to get the message about securing food to transient tourist populations and ambivalent local residents.