Wildlife officers aim to use Tasers on bears at Crater Lake | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife officers aim to use Tasers on bears at Crater Lake

Members of the Roggins family of Los Angeles ham it up Wednesday while passing a sign that warns of bear activity and closed camping at Crater Lake.

The top state wildlife official in the Aspen area believes that bears that have become habituated to finding human sources of food at Crater Lake can be adversely conditioned with a few jolts from a Taser.

Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the goal is to create such a bad experience for the bears that they won't return to the 11 campsites around the lake to search for human-produced food sources. They likely will remain in the area but search for natural food sources instead.

Wildlife officers camped at Crater Lake on Wednesday night after the area was closed to camping for backpackers by the White River National Forest supervisor's office. The hope was that a sow and her cub and any other bears that have been visiting the area would attempt to raid the campsites while the wildlife officers were there, Will said. The sow and cub invaded a campsite Saturday night and showed little fear of humans, according Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer. She said the mother bear showed signs of aggression.

The wildlife officers camping at Crater Lake were prepared to use the Tasers to train the bears not to seek food at campsites.

Will said the use of Tasers is "100 times" more effective then using rubber bullets or bean bags fired from a shotgun. The jolt would be enough to knock down a bear, he said.

"That's a lot of electricity," Will said.

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He hadn't heard from his officers in the field when he was contacted Thursday by The Aspen Times, so it was uncertain if there was an encounter yet. Even if the bears receive the adverse conditioning, the long-term success of reducing encounters will still depend on campers following proper procedures for storage of food, trash and other attractants, Will said.

He credited the U.S. Forest Service for passing an emergency order in July that requires use of bear-resistant containers for backpackers in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The problems still exist because some people ignore the rules, according to the Forest Service.

Camping was closed indefinitely at Crater Lake on Wednesday after ongoing bear issues. Crater Lake is about 1.5 miles from Maroon Lake. Crater is at the gateway to the wilderness area.

Will said careless humans are to blame for the encounters, not the bears.

"If a bear can't be in wilderness, where can it be?" he asked. "If we remove a bear from up there, another will take its place."

The use of bear spray isn't urged in the wilderness area like it is in some national parks such as Yellowstone. However, Will said he would advise backpackers to educate themselves on use of the spray and take it with them on overnight trips. He said the spray is effective on bears when used properly.

"I think everyone in there should carry a can," Will said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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