Man says he feeds bruins
A part-time Aspen resident admitted yesterday that he is feeding the bears, and he vowed to keep it up as long as he can, even if it is against the law.
Richard Wrate, who has been visiting Aspen since 1962, said he has been trucking 50-pound bags of cobb – a mix of corn, oat, barley and molasses mix ranchers and farmers feed to livestock – into the backcountry and leaving it out for the bears. Over the last two weeks, Wrate estimates that he’s left 1,000 pounds of the stuff at 12 sites around the upper valley.
Colorado Department of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said Wrate is committing a crime by intentionally feeding big game. And while the fines may be low, Malmsbury said the damage that Wrate and people like him cause is real.
“He’s interfering with nature. We know that in good years wildlife population increases, and in bad years the population declines, but he’s stepping in at a time when the overall population is in no danger of starvation,” Malmsbury said.
At first, the bags of food Wrate left in the upper Roaring Fork River and Castle Creek valleys went untouched, except maybe by a few birds and deer who happened by. But once Wrate added apples and honey to the mix, local ursines took notice. He says he’s sure the food is going to the bears because of the way the bags have been shredded.
“I’ve dropped food at 12 different sites, and nine have been totally satisfactory. At the other three places I was feeding birds and deer,” he said.
Wrate said he no longer needs to add honey, which makes the whole effort a lot more affordable. A 50-pound bag of cobb goes for $6.22, according to a saleswoman at the Roaring Fork Valley Co-op in Carbondale. “Honey costs a lot more than that,” Wrate said.
The 69-year-old California resident said he is perfectly aware of the warnings and pronouncements issued by state and local wildlife experts. Nature may be working its course, intervention might make bears more dependent on humans, and a natural culling of the population could be beneficial to the overall health of the species. But Wrate doesn’t care.
“I can understand their arguments, but this is an exceptional year,” he said.
In a letter to the editor (see page 9), Wrate urged people who are concerned about the well-being of the bears to begin their own feeding programs. “In the last few days we have seen that winter is fast approaching. Those who are able should start a grassroots project of feeding bears,” he writes. “All of us can write or call the Department of Wildlife. Make a fuss! In coming to town the bears did.”
But Malmsbury isn’t so sure Wrate is doing much at all for the bears by dropping food at remote locations in the upper reaches of Castle Creek and the Roaring Fork River. “The bears that he’s reaching by putting food up there are not the problem bears. The ones that are starving aren’t up there anymore, they’re looking for food lower down and among humans,” he said.
Malmsbury also pointed out that each bear requires a square mile of habitat, so feeding stations like the ones established by Wrate probably aren’t helping very many bears.
Wrate said he knows his effort isn’t making a huge dent in the problem, but after hearing about a motherless cub that was wandering the streets of Redstone earlier this year, he’s never had a second thought. “You lose the bear and you lose a piece of your spiritual being. I’ll do anything I can to help,” he said.
Wrate has had a special affection for bears since the first time he saw one. It was in 1949. He was 18 at the time and spending part of his summer vacation with his family at a cabin in Canada on the shores of Lake Superior.
“One evening I looked out the window and was face to face with a black bear. I said to myself, `I’ve got to go check him out,’ and started towards the door. My father grabbed me and said, `People shouldn’t be chasing after bears,'” Wrate recalls.
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