Study will reveal what’s up with ‘bad’ bears |

Study will reveal what’s up with ‘bad’ bears

Scott Condon
Aaron Smith's 2001 Chevrolet 2500 pickup truck sustained close to $20,000 in damage from a bear that got inside the vehicle in Snowmass Village this week. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Once a bear “goes bad” and starts tapping human sources of food, can it get off welfare or is a fed bear doomed as a dead bear?Wildlife experts have picked the Roaring Fork Valley to find out. State, federal and local officials launched a study this month to monitor the movements of so-called problem bears or those that have the potential for conflicts with humans.In the first year of the study, 15 bears will be captured in Aspen and Glenwood Springs and fitted with collars that will allow researchers to track their movements via a global positioning system. Researchers will be able to check the locations of the bears every 15 minutes. They will monitor if the travel patterns coincide with reports of things like Dumpster diving or conflicts with humans.If all goes as planned, the black bears will be tracked for three more years to see if Colorado Division of Wildlife management techniques are effective in altering the actions of bad bruins and preventing more from getting corrupt.”The goal is finding better ways to live with these animals,” said Stewart Breck, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins.The federal agency is teaming with the state wildlife division and Colorado State University on the study. Traps were set in Glenwood Springs this week and will be put in place in Aspen within a week.Adult males and females will be targeted even though sub-adult males are often suspected as the big troublemakers. Breck said sub-adult males range too far trying to establish their territory to make good study subjects. Bears that have raided human food sources or were in a position to are particularly coveted for capture.Breck said similar studies have been conducted in Yosemite National Park and around the Lake Tahoe area. This is the first of its kind in Colorado. The Roaring Fork Valley was selected because of all the bear-human conflicts in Aspen over the last five or so years and new problems sprouting up in Glenwood Springs.”Aspen’s been kind of bear central for some time,” said wildlife division spokesman Randy Hampton. Glenwood Springs has seen conflicts surge this spring.Breck said his theory is Glenwood Springs might be experiencing problems this spring because migrating bears brought their bad habits downvalley from Aspen with them. Aspen’s human-bear conflicts seemed to peak in years when late frost, drought or both wiped out natural food sources.Breck said black bears are very intelligent.”The way they learn things is an important component to this study,” he said.DOW terrestrial biologist John Broderick said he is anxious for the study to show if theories about bear behavior are valid.For example, one theory is that problem bears venture between Aspen and the Pitkin County landfill 10 miles west of town looking for easy pickings. The study will also show if bears that tap human sources ever rummage in their natural environment again for food.”There are people who have said that bear behavior has been altered because of the availability of food,” Broderick said.Over time, the study could help determine if DOW management techniques are reducing conflicts between bears and humans. Researchers plan to evaluate the effectiveness of public education programs.Aspen and Pitkin County have adopted bear ordinances that require homeowners and business operators to take precautions to keep bears out of food sources. Garbage must be stored in bear-proof containers, for example.Breck acknowledged that some researchers contend bears that tap human food sources cannot be reformed.”Maybe the best management solution is to euthanize it,” he said.The Colorado wildlife division has a two-strike policy. A bear is tagged the first time it takes action such as enters a house to obtain food, assuming it is caught. If a tagged bear is caught for a second offense, it is killed.That’s something no one wants, Breck said, so public education programs designed to prevent bears from establishing human food sources is critical.”We know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said.Last year 49 bears were killed in the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys, according to the wildlife division. That includes bears killed by landowners, wildlife officers, vehicles and electrocutions. Only seven bears have been killed in the same area this year, due in part to more favorable weather conditions.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is