With bears emerging in Aspen area, humans need to start securing food, homes | AspenTimes.com

With bears emerging in Aspen area, humans need to start securing food, homes

Bears hang out in the top of a Blue Spruce in Aspen on Thursday, October 10, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Colorado Parks and Wildlife received nearly 950 calls about black bear incidents and sightings in Pitkin County last year — far more than other mountain hotspots.

Wildlife officers received 313 bears calls in La Plata County, which includes Durango, and 112 calls in Eagle County, which includes Vail, according to Randy Hampton, public information officer for CPW’s Northwest Region.

The highest number of calls in Pitkin County, 442, involved damage to homes, cars and other property by bears trying to access food sources, Hampton said. One incident involved a bear attack on a hiker in Hunter Creek Valley.

With bears starting to stir as they stumble out of winter hibernation, CPW is renewing its annual effort to get homeowners and visitors in the Colorado mountains to heed the call to avoid creating situations that allow bears to access food. That means keeping food out of cars, locking ground-floor windows and doors in homes and garages, bringing pet food inside, forgoing bird feeders and cleaning grills.

“If you neighbor was 600 pounds, aggressive and hungry, what would you do?” — Randy Hampton, CPW

“The message is the same as it ever was because it’s the right message — don’t do things that are attracting bears to your property,” Hampton said late last week.

CPW has received 17 bear-related calls in Pitkin County already this spring and bear calls from a total of eight counties. A bear that created a ruckus in Snowmass Village was trapped and relocated last week.

CPW and other public agencies in Pitkin County had planned a “bear summit” in April to discuss bear-human conflicts, responses and communicating to the public. It was postponed due to the social-distancing requirements and prohibitions of gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials hope to convene in May.

Hampton had a blunt but effective description of how the public should think of black bears.

“If your neighbor was 600 pounds, aggressive and hungry, what would you do?” he said. “That’s kind of the way we have to treat this. We have to assume the bear wants to get into your house.”

Male bears typically emerge first from hibernation, followed by solitary sows and then sows with cubs born during hibernation, usually in mid- to late April, according to CPW. The hungry bruins seek grasses, aspen buds and other vegetative matter — gentle foods that help them get their digestive system and metabolism back to normal after not eating for months. It’s critical for their health that they not have access to trash and other human food sources.

“Every time a bear gets a treat, a bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, trash, it teaches the bear that people mean food,” Mark Lamb, CPW area wildlife manager for South Park and the west Metro Denver Area, said in a statement. “People who think it’s one time, no big deal, are totally wrong. It is a big deal when you compound that ‘one time’ with how many ‘one time’ they get from your neighbors, too. It adds up.”

CPW received 5,369 reports of human-bear incidents last year statewide. About one-third of the reports involved bears in trash.

If natural food sources are scarce or if human food sources are easily accessible, bears look in residential areas for their next meals.

CPW has information and tips titled “Living with Bears in Colorado” at https://cpw.state.co.us/bears.

“Biologists are seeing bears that are shifting much of their life cycle toward communities,” CPW said in a news release. “When a high-country berry bush yields a few hundred calories and a dumpster gives up thousands of calories via leftovers and greasy goodies, the bears will make the easy choice. Once they’ve made that choice they are instinctively trained by their stomachs to search out the easy option.”

Unfortunately, easy access to human food is often a death sentence for a so-called problem bear. While some bears are relocated after first offenses, repeat offenders and any bruins acting aggressively are killed.

“The bear is always the ultimate loser,” Lamb said.