Wildlife officials again urge Aspenites to lock up garbage
August 19, 2009
ASPEN – The woman who was attacked in her home by a bear Monday night did everything right in dissuading a bruin from coming onto her property in search of food.
Wildlife officers found no attractants like open trash containers, bird feeders, dog food or an uncovered barbecue grill around Maureen and Tom Hirsch’s property that might have guided the offending bear to the location.
“We can’t fault her in this particular case,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.
But he does point to countless individuals in the Aspen community who fail to comply with city and county laws that require bear-proof trash containers. They are the reason that the DOW is forced to euthanize bears, Hampton added.
As bears move from one area to another looking for natural food sources, they find unattended garbage along the way. Bears become habitual in looking for food with a higher caloric intake, Hampton noted.
The DOW spends a significant amount of time and energy with public outreach campaigns to inform residents of how damaging it is to leave trash unsecured, but to no avail – officials are not satisfied with the compliance level of Aspenites.
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“We have hammered this community … we’re at the end of our rope,” Hampton said. “At the human level, it’s going to take a community to deal with this.”
Hampton said he fears that this year is shaping up to be as bad as 2007, when a June frost wiped out the berry crop and human irresponsibility fueled the presence of bears. As a result, the DOW euthanized 13 bears in Aspen.
So far this year in Aspen and Snowmass Village, the DOW has killed three bears, and three have been relocated.
“We may be headed down a similar path,” Hampton said, adding that many of the cubs in 2007 learned the behavior of seeking human food sources and Aspen shouldn’t repeat the mistake again this year. “We might be creating another generation of bad bears.”
Wildlife officers say the bears’ natural food sources this year have been damaged because of the wet spring and summer. Berry crops and other plants have a form of “rust,” and some kind of fungus or mold, which impairs productivity.
And with the fall season and cooler temperatures fast approaching, bears are looking to bulk up for winter hibernation, a condition known as hyperphagia. Hampton noted that bears will feed up to 20 hours a day. The average black bear will consume approximately 20,000 calories each day in an effort to put on considerable body fat to survive winter hibernation.
Aspen community safety officers are contacting Hirsch’s neighbors to advise them of the “problem bear,” and are increasing their public outreach to prevent bear break-ins.
Hampton said he urges residents to talk to their neighbors who are violating the law, and to not patronize restaurants who fail to secure their trash bins. Failure to do so will likely lead to more euthanizations, he added.
It’s not that the DOW wants to kill bears – it’s a matter of public safety, Hampton said, adding his organization gets hammered with public criticism over the issue.
“We fully understand that the bears were here first, but we’ve got to manage what we can manage,” he said. “I do not care if people hate me and flip me off when I come into Aspen … get off your couch and make a difference.”
Officials urge residents to lock their doors and windows at all times, and keep trash secured.
The Aspen Police Department and 911 dispatch have been inundated with calls from people who have seen bears. If there is a bear sighting, the Aspen police urge people to call the bear hotline at 429-1768. If it’s an emergency, call 911.
“If you see a bear being a bear, you can call our non-emergency number … if he’s just strolling down the street you don’t need to call 911,” said Stephanie Dasaro, community relations specialist for the Aspen police. “If it’s actively being aggressive, then call 911.”