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Aspen dealing with bear dilemma

ASPEN ” The Colorado Division of Wildlife came to a public meeting in Aspen expecting anger, but its officers were thanked Wednesday night for the tough job they have faced this summer dealing with bears.

A “bear forum” attracted between 40 and 50 citizens to discuss why bear encounters with humans have soared this year and what can be done to spare bears’ lives.

One speaker, identified only as Satchel, suggested people with sloppy habits who let bears get into food should be publicly humiliated by being thrown into stockades and heavily fined.



The only controversy was whether or not bears should be fed since their natural food supplies are so depleted this year. A late frost and dry conditions have damaged acorn and berry crops. Bears are seeking easy pickings in Roaring Fork Valley towns and homes in rural areas.

When bears are caught entering homes through unsecured doors or windows, they are tagged. There is a “two-strike” policy for nuisance bears. They are killed if they are caught entering a second time.



But Velarde said some bears get conditioned to associate homes with food and have started breaking into structures, said Ron Velarde, the regional manager for the Division of Wildlife.

One bear has broken into homes 30 times, wildlife officers said.

“That bear dies,” Velarde said, producing groans from some in the crowd.



“My heart is left very saddened by having to kill ’em,” said Dorothy Thompson, a Pitkin County landowner.

Velarde said many on his staff get “physically ill” when they are required to kill a bear.

“Every one of these wildlife officers didn’t get into the business to kill bears,” he said.

Some audience members urged the wildlife division to take greater pity on bears in their time of need.

Catherine Garland of Aspen said it’s inhumane for people to watch fellow mammals suffer. All the food that gets wasted should be given to starving bears rather than discarded in Dumpsters and buried in the landfill, she said.

Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the wildlife division, said feeding bears doesn’t work for numerous reasons. It habituates bears to human food or gets them dependent on handouts even if berries and acorns are distributed in the woods. Also, famines are part of a natural process. To intervene could promote overpopulation.

Velarde said other Colorado residents are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They want the wildlife division to kill every bear that ventures into civilization. The two-strike policy was a compromise, he said.

But there is no leeway on safety of humans. A bear that breaks into a home poses a danger and must be destroyed, he said.

Woody Creek resident Don Lemos said a bear recently broke a window in his garage then destroyed the garage door, causing $2,000 in damage, to get at a freezer. He is working with Aspen district wildlife manager Kevin Wright to prevent additional visits, but Lemos said he is concerned.

“I’m living in paranoia and not sleeping real well,” he said.

Lemos stressed he doesn’t want the bear killed; he just wants it to leave him alone. He thanked the wildlife division for trying to help him.


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