Parks and Wildlife, Pitkin County grapple with bear problem |

Parks and Wildlife, Pitkin County grapple with bear problem

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners backed off supporting a state agency’s suggestion to reduce the bear population by creating more hunting opportunities.

At a work session Tuesday, Parks and Wildlife authorities filled in commissioners about two alternatives they are offering to curb the number of conflicts between bears and humans in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys.

The alternatives were a product of the Black Bear Population Management Plan, an exhaustive study of bruins that inhabit the area.

Keeping the black bear population stable is one suggestion from the study, which estimates that 1,250 bruins live in the area that covers all of Pitkin County, most of Eagle County and portions of Garfield, Gunnison and Grand counties. To maintain that population, the number of bear mortalities should range from 125 to 190 annually, the report said.

The second alternative aims to decrease the population until human-bear conflicts show a decrease in the three most recent poor natural-food years. In this scenario, 145 to 210 bears would need to be killed annually through hunts.

“I would not like to concentrate on bear reduction, but I would like to listen to all of the recommendations that are made by Parks and Wildlife,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley, who asked the agency to make suggestions that the commissioners could craft into an ordinance or incorporate into the county’s land-use code.

As has become commonplace when the discussion of bears arises, much of the blame was cast — both by Parks and Wildlife and commissioners — on humans who ignore trash ordinances by leaving their waste unsecured.

Parks and Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright said repeated public outreach campaigns have not had their desired effect.

“I think education has been out there and we’ve been on TV, radio and newspapers,” he said. “Education alone just doesn’t reduce the conflict.”

There are some residences, Wright said, where he “goes back year, after year, after year” in response to bear issues. But some people simply don’t get it, he said, asking for the county and city to help enforce ordinances and possibly create new ones.

“Probably 80 to 90 percent of our officer time (in the summers) is with bears,” Wright said. “Something has to give.”

Some commissioners said the problem especially persists within Aspen city limits, where some areas are densely populated with residents and restaurants. But unincorporated areas of Pitkin County, such as residential areas in Red Mountain and Buttermilk along with the Pitkin County Landfill and construction sites, have had ample bear problems.

“We have a role to play in our infrastructure as well,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards.

Whatever course Parks and Wildlife takes, its primary goal is to reduce human-bear conflicts. The agency is soliciting feedback from the general public and is meeting with various municipalities and counties over the next two months.

Poor natural-food years have exacerbated the problem. In 2009, the agency either killed or relocated 68 nuisance bears. The figure was 27 in 2011 and 46 in 2012.

“I don’t want any more dead bears in Pitkin County,” Owsley said.