Pitkin County ups funding for rehabilitating bears

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Bear cubs like this one, captured in Aspen in 2009, can wind up at the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt, where they're rehabilitated for release into the wild. Pitkin County commissioners agreed Tuesday to give the foundation a $3,000 grant next year. Courtesy of Lindsey Smith/Aspen Times file

ASPEN – Pitkin County will allocate $1.8 million in grants to a host of health and human-service agencies, senior services and nonprofit organizations next year, including $3,000 to the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation near Silt, which rehabilitates bears brought to it from Aspen and elsewhere.

The wildlife foundation, which aids injured and orphaned wild animals with the goal of returning them to the wild, was one of three organizations that appealed the initial response to their grant request.

The foundation asked for $5,000, but a $500 grant was recommended by a citizen committee that reviews each application.

Its services include dealing with bear cubs when their mothers are euthanized after getting into trouble in Aspen, Pitkin County and elsewhere, but one committee member pondered whether helping animals is a proper use of funds from the county’s Healthy Community Fund tax, which is directed toward human services.

In 2011, the foundation received a $2,500 grant, but it dropped to $500 in 2012.

“Who is really the problem? It’s not the bears – it’s humans,” County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said during a review Tuesday of the grant recommendations. “It’s our food sources that create these problems.”

“I have a hard time thinking $500 would be enough to rehabilitate one animal and feed it,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

Commissioners indicated that they’d be open to an annual $3,000 allocation to the foundation, which depends on volunteers, donations and grants, but they’d like to see the organization seek other funding partners and they want to make sure Colorado Parks, and Wildlife is supportive of the foundation’s activities.

The existing Healthy Community Fund tax expires at the end of this year, but voters last year reauthorized it for six more years, starting in 2013. All past grant recipients were required to reapply, and the county received 75 applications, including 12 from entities that have never sought funding previously. Seventy will receive funding.

The 2013 requests totaled $2.3 million; an estimated $1.8 million will be available to distribute.

Two applicants that were rejected for funding entirely, the Thompson Divide Coalition and Wilderness Workshop, both filed appeals. The citizen committee denied funding to the organizations after concluding that the use of Healthy Community Fund money to mount a legal battle against oil and gas drilling in the Divide was an inappropriate use of the funds.

The Thompson Divide Coalition, however, sought $10,000 for an economic analysis that considers the value of recreational, agricultural and ranching uses on Thompson Divide, an area targeted for gas drilling that includes land in Pitkin County.

Commissioners indicated that they support providing funding for the study. They agreed to put $5,000 from the Healthy Community Fund toward it and to consider $5,000 from other sources during their ongoing county budget deliberations.

“We can add this to a list of items that we know we’re going to need to address,” said County Manager Jon Peacock.

Wilderness Workshop sought a $20,000 grant. Commissioners agreed to allocate $10,000 from the Healthy Community Fund for ongoing monitoring of air and water quality in wilderness – an effort the county has supported previously and which the city of Aspen and U.S. Forest Service also help fund.

The elected officials said they’d consider the other $10,000 for the Wilderness Workshop as part of the county’s general budget. That money was requested to prevent, delay or minimize drilling in Thompson Divide and minimize the impacts of oil and gas development in the county and the region.

With Tuesday’s decisions on the appeals, an estimated $1,000 remains in the Healthy Community Fund grant pool for 2013.


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