Opinions sought on best bear management practices
Ideas for bringing the area bear population under control were more plentiful at a meeting in Glenwood Springs to discuss the issue Wednesday night than the short supply of berries and acorns that led in part to the many bear-human conflicts last year.
Among suggestions made to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials were calls to reinstate the spring bear hunt, which would require statewide voter approval, expand the existing fall hunting season, and increase enforcement of trash ordinances to help keep bears out of populated areas.
One of the handful of attendees even half-jokingly suggested the agency consider “bear contraception,” which brought a chuckle toward the end of the hour-and-a-half long meeting at the Glenwood Community Center.
“We used to not have these problems,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager for CPW, who noted that bear sightings, especially in-town conflicts, were rare in the 1970s and ’80s when he started with the agency.
“Something is different now, and we are trying to figure that out,” he said.
The Aspen Police Department estimated it had 52 bear calls last November alone. There were two in November 2013 and 15 in the same month in 2012, a year that saw 1,040 bear calls.
Glenwood Springs had one of its most troublesome bear seasons on record, with more than 350 bear-related calls to local police, more than a dozen bears hit and killed by vehicles, another dozen bears that had to be transplanted back into the wild and three bears that had to be euthanized.
Carbondale and Basalt also saw a marked increase in bear encounters last year, as did Aspen.
There were a total of 65 bears killed from vehicle collisions between Aspen and Glenwood Springs on Highway 82 and between Vail and Glenwood on Interstate 70 in 2014. Most of those fatalities occurred on Highway 82, Will told The Aspen Times in December.
“You’re so far behind the curve, I just don’t know that these control methods on bears are going to cut it,” Carbondale resident Don Sillivan said of CPW’s draft management plan. “It’s getting out of control.”
Sillivan also said wildlife managers need to be able to do their jobs, and not have voters deciding management issues. He was referring to the 1992 statewide vote to eliminate the spring bear hunt, over concerns that mother bears were being killed and leaving behind abandoned cubs.
“I don’t think the public should be managing bears, you should be,” he said before a room full of as many wildlife officers as there were members of the general public.
Local wildlife officials are in the process of updating their bear management plan for the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Eagle river valleys, which is done every 10 years.
That includes establishing population objectives that strive to reduce human-bear conflicts, maintain a quality hunting experience, and maintain a sustainable bear population with a healthy age and gender mix, CPW biologist Julie Mao said.
Current population estimates put the number of bears at about 1,250 in the area stretching from Aspen to Glenwood Springs and east to Vail, known as Data Analysis Unit B-11. That comes out to 0.87 bears per square mile, Mao said.
An increasing bear mortality rate in recent years, including problem bears that have had to be put down by wildlife officers due to coming in contact with humans in populated areas, is a sign that the number of bears is continuing to go up.
The agency is considering two alternatives to manage the bear population. They include:
1. Maintain a stable population trend (essentially the status quo), but increasing the quotas on hunting licenses.
2. Managing for a decreased bear population until human-bear conflicts reach targeted reductions during years when natural food sources such as berries and acorns are poor, which was the case last year.
CPW is seeking comments on the proposed management plan through March 15, either by taking an online survey at http://www.research.net/s/b11DAUplansurvey, or submitting written comments to the agency.
In either scenario, reducing bear-human conflicts is still dependent on reducing the availability of unnatural food sources in populated areas, primarily unsecured trash and ripe fruit trees, Mao said.
Glenwood Springs and Carbondale both strengthened their trash ordinances last year and beefed up enforcement and fines to try to control bear problems.
“It takes aggressive and active enforcement for it to be effective,” said Kevin Wright, wildlife officer for the Aspen area.
One challenge, he said, is convincing more hunters to purchase the bear hunting licenses that are available, which could increase the fall harvest.
“Anyone who wants to get a bear tag can, we just aren’t selling them,” Wright said.
The full Black Bear Population Management Plan for the area, including detailed information about the proposed alternatives, can be found at http://bit.ly/16LAZjp.
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The city of Aspen’s new Lumberyard housing project will necessitate a new traffic light on Highway 82 by Builders FirstSource and Mountain Rescue Aspen.