Wildlife officials continue to get bear message out

Naomi HavlenAspen Times Staff Writer

Bear season is upon Aspen, and the city is celebrating “bear awareness week” so locals, visitors and businesses will be prepared for hungry bruins.Colorado’s dry conditions may be affecting the natural food supply of local bears, but so far environmental officials say encounters with bears in the city limits have been minimal. As usual, officials are trying to remind the public to keep windows closed and trash cans locked up tight.But this year the increased focus on awareness of the furriest locals takes a different approach.”We wanted to really try to reach the community in a different way, instead of just press releases,” said Jannette Whitcomb, officer with the Aspen Environmental Health Department. “This is more interactive, with a different approach to keep it fresh for the public and keep the word out there.”Today a bear-awareness picnic in Paepcke Park from 3 to 6 p.m. will include bear-related activities for children such as storytelling, while giving adults the chance to learn about wildlife resistant trash containers. Officers from the Colorado Division of Wildlife will speak on how to “bear-proof” homes.Last year’s bear awareness week occurred in May, but Whitcomb said this week was scheduled specifically to target everyone in Aspen, including locals, tourists and businesses.”We changed the dates to June and after Food & Wine because we figured there would be more second-home owners, summer vacationers and general tourists here,” she said. “They need to know that if you see a bear, you should just keep going. They’re here, we’re here, and we have to learn to coexist. It’s a fact of life – we live in bear country.”Another fact of life in the mountains are other types of wildlife that humans shouldn’t be interfering with. Whitcomb said she has heard reports of a fox den near Centennial that some residents have been feeding, so much so that a mother fox is approaching people for food.”The fox should be looking to the wild to feed her kids,” she said, adding that anyone caught feeding wildlife can be fined under Aspen’s wildlife protection ordinance.”It’s a safety issue as well as a wildlife issue,” she said. “These animals are wild, they’re not domestic animals. You might think that feeding them is OK, but you don’t know what they’re going to do.”In the meantime, the city’s environmental health technician continues to patrol Aspen’s alleys, handing out warnings and tickets to people with unlocked trash receptacles. Whitcomb said bears will be seen more often in town toward the end of the summer, but the ongoing programs are a way of staying in the public consciousness.”Bear Awareness Week is part of the Roaring Fork Bear Awareness Campaign, and will include the Basalt Fun Run on July 13 and a presence at the Carbondale Mountain Fair,” she said.[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]