The bears: Just looking for morsels |

The bears: Just looking for morsels

Janet Urquhart
A cub peeks from the bushes before raiding the tables at Main Street Bakery in August. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

It wasn’t local politicos or Aspen’s glitterati hogging the headlines for much of 2004. Instead, the town’s ursine population got all the attention.

Human encounters with black bears hit an all-time high before autumn snow finally sent the last stragglers to their dens for a long winter’s nap.A late freeze in June destroyed much of the bear population’s natural food supply, driving them into town early in the summer, where they pretty much made themselves at home until late fall.

The brazen bruins wandered through town in broad daylight, in numbers that alarmed wildlife officials. The Division of Wildlife, kept hopping all summer long, ran short of traps. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” the county’s former wildlife biologist reported in July. “We are seeing bears now doing things that, until recently, they had never done.”Residents found their kitchens raided and their vehicles trashed by bears who sniffed a hint of food. Often, homeowners got the blame for leaving windows ajar or doors unlocked, but in Midland Park, a bear smashed through the window of a secured home and helped himself to sugar and some foodstuffs from the fridge.

Aspen’s Hickory House was forced to shut down briefly after a bear nearly destroyed its outdoor smoker, leaving the restaurant without its signature smoked pork and beef. The outdoor Popcorn Wagon also contemplated closing after repeated bear break-ins.A Snowmass Village woman was tossed around in her tent by a bear at the Snowmass Lake trailhead, but came away essentially unscathed. The animal was only looking for food and there was none in the tent.

Pitkin County outlawed the use of individual, wildlife-resistant trash containers in various neighborhoods after bears successfully broke into them time and time again. While the bears proved irresistible to gawkers and shutterbugs – The Aspen Times produced a sold-out 2005 calendar of Aspen bear mugs – their presence put them in danger. Several problem bears were killed by wildlife officials before it was over.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is