Study provides glimpse of ‘bad bears’
August 26, 2005
A female black bear assigned the number 919 is providing state and federal wildlife researchers with hope that bruins would rather roam wild lands for food than rummage around Aspen.The adult female is supplying scientists with the initial data in a five-year study designed to learn more about the behavior of black bears and, specifically, to learn about bears involved in conflicts with humans.Bear 919 was trapped July 10 at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, tranquilized and fitted with a collar that uses global positioning system satellites to track travel.For the next two weeks the bear stayed mostly within the city limits in the Pitkin Green and lower Red Mountain areas. The sow sometimes wandered to the outskirts of town at the base of Smuggler Mountain, but she never left civilization.But starting on July 25 the bear left town. She spent her time almost exclusively on Smuggler Mountain, venturing almost to Warren Lakes, high up on the slope. She stayed out of town until researchers with Colorado State University, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently triggered a mechanism that blows the collar off the bruin so it can be recovered.
It’s probably no coincidence that the bear’s departure from town coincided with Aspen’s summer monsoon and the ripening of natural foods in the forest.”When the choke cherries and service berries came on, that bear wasn’t spending any time in town,” said John Broderich, a terrestrial biologist with the state wildlife division.Over the next four years, the researchers hope to dig into details with the study. This first year was an assessment to see if their strategy will work, said Stewart Breck, a researcher with the federal Animal and Plant Inspection Service.They want to study what bears like 919 are doing while in Aspen and why they leave. Right now, it’s just a theory that she was finding human sources of food and that she left when natural foods ripened, Broderich said.Six bears were trapped and fitted with collars this year – five in Aspen and one in Glenwood Springs. The collars collect data for a maximum of 200 days before the batteries give out.
Breck said the study could be used to determine if efforts to scare bears away from civilization are effective. For example, if it’s known that a collared bear was shot with rubber buckshot after breaking into a house, researchers will be able to track the bear and see if it eventually returns to the house, if it picks another residence or stays in the woods. The initial field research, headed by CSU graduate student Sharon Baruch-Mordo, also indicated that some bears that become addicted to human food sources may be unable to lick their addiction. In those cases, they are doomed.Such was the case of an adult male bear that was trapped by wildlife officers in Glenwood Springs after creating trouble at a property within the city. The bear received its “first strike” and was relocated by wildlife officers. Colorado’s policy is to place an ear tag on bears after their first problem with humans. If they create a second problem, like breaking into a house to get food, they are killed.Since the bear was being relocated, researchers in the study decided to place one of their collars on him.The bear was relocated from Glenwood to the Grand Mesa, southeast of Palisade. He was 295 pounds when trapped on July 4.
He stayed on the Grand Mesa for two or three days, then traveled to South Canyon landfill, where he remained parked for about 20 days. The bear finally ventured back to Glenwood Springs and was killed Aug. 12 when he was hanging around a day-care center.At the time of his death, the bear was 420 pounds. He added 125 pounds, or about 42 percent, in five weeks.Wildlife division spokesman Randy Hampton said the use of the bears for the study doessn’t make them any more susceptible or immune to the two-strike policy. They will be destroyed regardless of their participation in the study if they violate the two-strike policy.The researchers hope the knowledge they gain over the next five years helps the wildlife division craft better management policies to reduce human-bear conflicts.In addition to the two-strike policy, the division concentrates on educating residents of mountain towns like Aspen and Glenwood Springs to keep sources of food secured to reduce the temptation to bears. Aspen, Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and Basalt have bear ordinances that require households and businesses to use bear-proof trash containers or put trash out on the day of pick-up, among other things.
Although the public education campaign has gone on for years, its effectiveness is questioned by the wildlife division.”We already found out we can’t just tell people, ‘You’re living in bear country, deal with it,'” Broderich said.So the idea is to determine how to make towns and rural subdivisions “unsuitable habitat,” Breck said.”It’s not my vision to see bears hanging out eating garbage,” Breck said. “I don’t think anybody wants that.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org