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Aspen: Bear butters up monks

ASPEN, Colorado ” An uninvited guest at The Aspen Institute insisted over the weekend on adding her signature mark to a butter sculpture created by a visiting Tibetan monk.

A female bear entered the Kresge building one recent night and left her claw marks in the sculpture, confirmed Amy Margerum, executive vice president of The Aspen Institute.

“The smell is obviously attracting the bear,” Margerum said.



Margerum said she isn’t sure what the creator of the sculpture initially thought, but a few hours after the incident he was considering the idea of incorporating the claw print into his future works in lard.

“It’s part of life’s unpredictability,” chuckled Margerum.

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Several monks are visiting Aspen this week for a celebration of Tibetan and Himalayan culture. The Dalai Lama will speak at the Benedict Music Tent on Saturday.

But it’s clear bear is creating concern for the folks at the institute and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. A group of monks were eating on the Institute campus one recent day and were approached by an aggressive female bear, according to wildlife division spokesman Randy Hampton. The bear reportedly came within 10 feet of the group before security officers tried to chase it away, he said.

“It’s my understanding there was a bluff charge,” said Hampton. In a bluff charge, a bear will come at a person but stop short of making an attack. The bear was eventually chased away without further incident, Hampton said.



Margerum said visitors at the Institute regularly eat lunch outside. There has been aggressive behavior on the part of the bear and it has alarmed some of the guests, she said.

Margerum stressed that the Institute doesn’t want the bear killed. It hopes the wildlife division can trap and relocate the bruin.

Hampton said the state agency understands and appreciates the Institute’s desires, but wildlife officers must take a different approach if the bear is trapped. The bear is acting aggressively and it has already been tagged for contact with humans. Under the agency’s two-strike policy, the bear must be killed.

“We’re not going to relocate a bear that’s acting aggressively. It’s not going to happen,” said Hampton. A trap was set Monday for the bear.

A different bear has been a nuisance in the midvalley. A bear broke into a home at 123 Valley Court in Willits at about 10 p.m. Friday, according to the Basalt Police Department. Few details were available Monday because a report wasn’t filed, but Police Chief Keith Ikeda said a report indicated the bear was going back and forth between the kitchen and garage of the home. An occupant was in the backyard when

an officer responded. The bear was chased away.

Breaking and entering by bears is rare in the midvalley. A bear tagged as a nuisance has been reported numerous times in the Willits and Sopris Village area over the last 10 days, authorities said.

Hampton said the upper Roaring Fork Valley has experienced an uptick in bear activity in recent days. The activity is probably due to a transition period in natural food supplies. The warm, dry weather toasted flowering plants and grasses that bears eat early in the summer, and berries aren’t quite ripe yet, Hampton said. It appears there will be an abundant berry crop this year because of all the spring moisture and lack of a late killer frost. That should entice the bears to hang out in the woods rather than at Dumpsters.

However, Hampton said, the key is not to let the bears develop bad habits from humans providing food.

“Once they get into that, there’s not a lot of reason for them to go back to the woods,” said Hampton.

He stressed that just because a bear hangs out at The Aspen Institute campus or a house at Willits, it doesn’t mean it found food there before. Once a bear associates food with buildings, it will go on the prowl at other buildings.


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