Official: Aspen ignores bear problem

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen should pay as much attention to bears as it does to canaries when it comes to environmental activism, the state wildlife manager for the region said this week.Kevin Wright of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said an Aspen ordinance designed to eliminate human sources of food for bears is widely ignored by residents and inadequately enforced by the city government.”This town has to decide whether this is a priority or not,” Wright said.Aspen launched its Canary Initiative last year to reduce its contribution to global warming. Wright believes it should be equally committed to wildlife issues – like avoiding conflicts with bruins.Aspen passed rules years ago that requires businesses and residents to secure their trash in bear-proof containers. They are also supposed to eliminate potential food sources like hummingbird feeders, pet food and greasy grills.”The amount of trash and compliance with the ordinance is the worst since the ordinance was enacted,” Wright said. He estimated there are seven to 15 calls per day this summer for bear encounters with humans in Aspen and Pitkin County, often involving an animal in a house. Activity picked up in May. June and July have been “terrible,” he said.The wildlife division hasn’t killed any bears in Aspen this summer; three bears have been killed in Glenwood Springs after repeat encounters with humans.The city of Aspen handles the bulk of the enforcement, although wildlife officers also can write citations when property owners don’t take adequate “remedial actions” following encounters with bears.The Aspen Institute received a ticket from Wright during the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this month. Wright said the Institute was “terrible” at picking up trash.”They had bears coming in every night,” he said. “At one point they had three bears.”The wildlife division’s ticket lacks sting. It’s a $50 fine with an $18 surcharge.Wright said a handful of businesses refuse to comply with the ordinance and that 90 to 95 percent of the construction Dumpsters are out of compliance.He stressed that he believes the city’s wildlife officer does a good job and has written a higher number of tickets this summer than in past years. But the problems are so widespread that the city needs additional officers checking for compliance, he said.The enforcement of the bear ordinance was assigned years ago to the city parking department, somewhat to director Tim Ware’s chagrin. (Bears, after all, are notoriously ignorant of parking regulations.)Ware said he directed the city’s lone wildlife officer to get more aggressive in enforcing the ordinance this summer. The language in the law was tweaked a couple of years ago to switch from requiring bear-“resistant” trash containers to steel “bear-proof” containers.The city concentrated on educating business owners and residents about the requirement for the last two summers. Now it’s time to get more aggressive, Ware said.He planned to make the rounds with the wildlife officer at 5 a.m. today to gauge compliance with Dumpsters. The challenge with enforcement is finding the person responsible for not securing a Dumpster or for putting discarded food in a construction Dumpster, Ware said.Parking regulations allow the department to ticket a vehicle for violations. The bear ordinance requires that the responsible person be found and ticketed for a violation.Wright is frustrated because so many human encounters with bears could be avoided by simple changes in habits. People need to latch lids on Dumpsters and make the trash hauler replace the Dumpster when the door won’t completely seal. Bruins are such powerful animals that they can rip open a door even if it is open just a crack. Locking doors and windows is also vital, Wright said.Warm, dry weather has driven some bears higher into the backcountry in search of natural foods sources, Wright said. But bears are opportunists and when they find human sources of food, they will keep returning to town.Wright fears people won’t take the message seriously until the wildlife division is forced to kill so-called problem bears – something he is loath to do.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is


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