Teddy bears or big, bad bruins
Last week, an Aspen Times editorial suggested that more enforcement might be required to keep our local bears out of the garbage in the alleys. I can attest that the law is alive and well in my alley because, 48 hours after the editorial ran, I received a $50 ticket for harboring a noncompliant trash container.The container was presented to me by my trash company as “bear-resistant,” so I thought I was in the clear, but it turns out there is a big difference between “bear-resistant” and “bear-proof.” Let the buyer BEwARe.The first bear I ever saw was standing in the middle of the highway to Homer, Alaska. My ex-husband Burt slammed on the brakes of our VW Beetle. It was dusk, and the bear stared impassively into our headlights.Burt leapt out of the car and took a few steps toward the bear, turning to call, “Throw me that honey bun!” That could have been the sudden end of a relationship, which grew increasingly dismal, but, as luck would have it, Burt fumbled the pastry, the bear advanced, Burt jumped back in the car, and the disaster he was clearly asking for was averted.In our time in Alaska, there were many bears after that first one. Bears ripping tents, bears flinging possessions and pooping on what was left behind; bears killed, bears skinned, skinned bears shrouded in mosquito netting hanging in trees (to cure the meat), head-wrenchingly looking like naked men hanging among the leaves; bears eaten (they taste like pork).In some towns in Alaska, the garbage went into a communal dump, to the delight of the bears, the photographers and, no doubt, the residents, whose freezers never went empty.Here in Aspen, the bear problem is not so pragmatically solved. We have an ironic situation where the bears are starving, but if we feed them they will be killed. (“A fed bear is a dead bear,” the slogan goes.)No one wants a dead bear, but a bear starved to death is as dead as a euthanized bear. And if we actively FEED the bears, they will be fruitful and multiply, leading to even more bears in town.The irony was never more obvious than the recent killing of a sow “trash bear,” orphaning her two cubs, which were then rescued, despite the Division of Wildlife’s assertions that such cubs have already been taught to be trash bears. Aspen is wringing its bear hands and there is no easy solution, but I submit that if this were an infestation of rattlesnakes rather than adorable bears, the public might be less tolerant.The DOW claims, with some credibility, that our bear problems arise from a number of factors: human encroachment on their habitat, failure to secure our garbage and a dearth of the bears’ natural food supplies.All I know is that there were no bears around in the late ’60s and ’70s, that there appears to be a high correlation between the tightened hunting laws and the proliferation of bears, and that my healthy raspberry patch, as well as abundant crabapple trees planted around town, are eschewed by bears in favor of garbage.If we need to get rid of garbage and the bears want to eat the garbage, it seems that somehow we should be able to make this a winning proposition.Su Lum is a longtime local who also thinks that bear could be an option in the school lunch program. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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