Tough times ahead for bears |

Tough times ahead for bears

Scott Condon

State wildlife officers estimate that about 25 bears have been killed at the hands of man in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer. That’s nothing compared to what they expect Mother Nature will do over the winter.There will likely be a high mortality rate among cubs and yearlings because they won’t be able to put on enough weight to survive hibernation, according to John “J.B.” Broderich, a terrestrial biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.The mortality rate for cubs in places like the Roaring Fork River drainage could go as high as 75 percent this winter, according to Broderich. As many as 40 to 50 percent of the yearlings could die, he said.The young bears cannot put on enough weight because a late frost in June killed much of the valley’s acorn and berry crops – staples of the bruins’ diets. Young bears are in the greatest jeopardy because they haven’t matured to the point where they can rely on body fat built up from prior years.Adult bears may go into hibernation hungry this year and they may emerge skinnier than usual next spring, but they can rely on their reserves to survive, Broderich said.Kevin Wright, state wildlife officer for the Aspen district, said the effects of the late freeze and ongoing drought are evident in many bears he’s been forced to trap or otherwise deal with this summer. He’s noticed many younger bears have virtually no body fat right now.Aspen has experienced record problems with bears roaming town seeking alternative sources of food. In addition to people being careless by leaving garbage and other food items accessible, some citizens erroneously think they are helping bears by feeding them, Wright observed.”There’s a big push for artificial feeding,” he said, citing letters to the editor advocating a bear feed at an isolated place like the county dump.”That’s not going to do anything for the bears in Aspen,” Wright said. They won’t leave town for a different source.– see Bears on page A7– continued from page A1Besides, he said, it’s just not practical to set up a feeding site. Adult bears need 20,000 calories or about 40 pounds of food per day right now to prepare for hibernation. Providing a buffet for the large number of bears in the upper valley would require a fat bankroll.In addition, he doesn’t want to make bears dependent on artificial sources like a feeding area in the woods. Despite all the publicity about bears this summer, there are still enough careless people throughout the town and county to create problems, Wright said. They don’t close windows when they leave the house; they don’t secure their garbage; and they don’t remove tempting sources like dog food bowls outside or meat-stained grills.Wright said there are residents in virtually every neighborhood in Aspen and the surrounding metro area that are ignoring city and county bear ordinances. “People are just so lazy,” he lamented.He said wildlife officers have been required to kill about a dozen so-called problem bears in the Roaring Fork and Crystal valleys this summer. The number of known shootings by private citizens combined with cars hitting bears on roads boosts the number of dead bears to 25 in the area, Wright said.The cooler weather and approach of fall will bring more potential conflicts, not fewer. Bears are feeding up to 20 hours per day right now, Wright said. Sows and cubs will hibernate in mid- to late October. Boars will feed until mid-November.The expected high mortality rate for young bears will be felt four years down the road. Females don’t typically start breeding until they are 4 years old, Broderich said. So this year, there were fewer breeding females due to similar conditions in 2000, he said. This year’s natural events will mean fewer breeding sows in 2008.Bear populations can absorb a poor year every now and then. Problems could arise if berry and acorn crops failed for a few consecutive years, Broderich explained.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is