The bears are back in Aspen |

The bears are back in Aspen

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – In their quest for food, bears are acting up again in Aspen.

Late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, Aspen and Pitkin County authorities responded to eight calls from people sighting bears or reporting bear-related problems, according to Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He named a few streets near the locations of the incidents: Hyman Avenue, West Main Street, Red Mountain Road, Hopkins Avenue, Silver King Drive and Lower Bullwinkle Lane.

In the upper Roaring Fork Valley, the Eagle Valley and the Basalt area, Will’s officers have dealt with 80 to 90 calls in the past two weeks, he estimated.

“Bear activity has really picked up,” Will said. “It’s just that time of year.”

So far this summer, seven problem bears from the Eagle Valley to Aspen have had to be caught and relocated. Another eight bears were deemed such a safety issue that they had to be killed, he said.

Part of the problem is the drought, which has had a negative impact on the bears’ feeding grounds in the higher mountain elevations. Also, the serviceberry and the chokecherry, popular food sources for bears, haven’t fully ripened yet.

“And because of the drought they haven’t produced real well,” Will said of the vegetation.

Recent rains have helped a little with regard to bear-food production in the mountains, but it may be a case of “too little, too late,” he said.

“It’s real spotty this year,” he said. “We don’t have the lush vegetation we had last year.”

There also have been some nuisance calls in the Glenwood Springs area but no reported break-ins by bears.

“Those are just bears being bears,” Will said.

In the Aspen area, several bears have been breaking into houses and trash-container areas not only within the city limits but on the outskirts of town, he said.

“We’ve not had any injuries or problems between bears and people,” Perry said. “Knock on wood, there have been no issues like that. Last year, we did.”

Despite the lack of direct contact between bears and humans, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been fielding more bear calls this year than last year, he said.

“I’m not saying it’s like the 2007 or 2009 levels, but it’s approaching that, and we’re just in the middle of July,” Will said. “Hopefully, August won’t be too bad. If we keep getting the monsoon rains, it will help.”

Aspen police spokeswoman Blair Weyer said that while it might seem like a big month for bear calls, the department’s numbers depict an average season.

Police responded to 97 bear calls in July 2010 and 77 calls in July 2011. So far, with two weeks left in the month, police have responded to 51 bear calls, she said.

“It ebbs and flows,” Weyer said.

The department’s efforts to educate the community about locking doors and windows at night and securing garbage appear to be paying off, she added.

Brad Smith, general manager of the Red Onion restaurant, said that on Sunday night a bear broke into the garbage-and-recyclables collection building near the employee-housing complex where he lives, Ute Park Townhomes, on the east side of town near The Aspen Club.

“He came and tried to rip off the front door of our Dumpster enclosure but could not succeed,” Smith said. “Then he wandered around to the back of the Dumpster enclosure and ripped the whole wall off.”

Smith said the bear came back on Monday night and that residents tried to shoo it away to no avail. Ute Park Townhomes has seven units.

“That’s when the cops ended up shooting him with a beanbag, and he ran away,” Smith said.

The cinnamon-colored bear wasn’t very big. Smith estimated that it was young and weighed about 250 pounds.

Smith said so far this year he hasn’t had any issues with bears in the alley behind the Red Onion, which lies between the Hyman and Cooper pedestrian malls.

“We have a secure trash compactor back there, so it’s really hard for them to get into it,” he said.

Houston resident Marc Ostrofsky, who visits Aspen with his wife each year and is looking to purchase a house here, said he was playing a round of golf at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt earlier this month when an adult bear and two cubs “waltzed across the fairway.”

He said for the next hour, the club was abuzz with activity as the bears worked their way through the various holes and golf-club personnel made certain none of their guests got too close.

Many of the recent calls have been related to unsecured garbage left outside, Will said. But some are out-and-out home break-ins in which the bears are heading for pantries and refrigerators.

“Bears are pretty smart,” Will said. “Their sense of smell is just incredible. And it’s learned behavior, as well. They’ve gone to places in the past and gotten rewarded, and so they return.”

Aspen has regulations requiring homeowners, renters and businesses to secure their garbage in bear-proof containers. Police typically issue a warning for the first offense, but after that the fines go up to $250, $500 and $999, respectively. The latter fine also includes a court appearance.

The Aspen Police Department has a hot line for information or to report bear-related issues at 970-429-1768. The area office for Colorado Parks and Wildlife receives calls, as well, at 970-947-2920. For emergency situations, call Aspen police at 970-920-5400 or dial 911.

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