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Aspen explores way to halt bumper crop of bear food

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesCrab apple trees in downtown Aspen are loaded with fruit - an enticing treat for black bears that are wandering about town. The city is contemplating the use of a spray next spring that will prevent blossoms from producing fruit.
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ASPEN – Downtown Aspen’s crab apple trees, a visual delight when they blossom in the spring, provide a different sort of treat in late summer. Their branches are laden with tempting fruit for the many black bears foraging in town.

The bumper crop of bear food dangling from trees in the commercial core hasn’t gone unnoticed by either the city or the Colorado Division of Wildlife, according to Chris Forman, forester with the city Parks Department.

“We’ve spoken at great length about that issue,” he said.



In discussions with the DOW, the city has concluded the apples aren’t the draw bringing bears into town, but provide a tasty supplement to the garbage that the DOW is blaming as the main attractant, Forman said.

Nevertheless, the city is contemplating treating the trees next spring with a spray when the blossoms are peaking. The spray breaks down into a chemical produced naturally by plants; it would trigger the trees to abort the production of fruit for that season.



“It would be the introduction of a stress – it’s telling the tree, ‘Hey, I’m stressed, don’t use all your energy to produce fruit,'” Forman said.

The product could reduce the blooming period of the trees by a couple of days. Making sure the trees still blossom is a key consideration, he said.

“That’s one of the big reasons why that tree was planted years ago,” Foreman said.



Spectacular pink blossoms cover the trees in the springtime, but the city no longer plants that variety of tree. Instead, it now plants a spring snow crab apple that produces beautiful, white flowers, according to Foreman, but no fruit. In addition, the city no longer allows fruit trees of any kind when it has purview over a landscaping plan as part of a development approval, he said.

Whether the trees that do produce fruit will be treated or not has yet be decided. It would be an experiment next spring, involving only some trees, and it won’t be used if the trees are already stressed for some other reason, Foreman said. At present, they are healthy, he added.

There has been some discussion about picking this year’s fruit, but it would be a daunting project that would be hard on the trees, Foreman said. There are 41 crap apple trees on the downtown pedestrian malls and adjacent to the malls, and thousands upon thousands of crab apples.

Trying to strip branches of the apples would break some branches and pull off leaves along with the fruit, he said. And, the labor involved would be costly, while the spray is not.

Since the DOW doesn’t believe the crab apples are to blame for the bears’ presence, trying to remove the fruit doesn’t make sense, Forman said. Plus, there are many crab apple trees on private property, anyway.

“I wouldn’t ask the general public to remove crab apples off their trees,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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