Aspen: First bear of the year spotted |

Aspen: First bear of the year spotted

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO, Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Although it may seem early, bears are waking up and foraging for food. On Monday, Aspen police received their first call of a bear in a recycling bin ” this one on Juan Street.

“It’s time for Aspen to buckle up and start paying attention,” said Kevin Wright, the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s manager for the Aspen area.

It’s not unusual to see bears in April and residents should be putting garbage in wildlife-resistant containers, Wright said.

“Sows and cubs will typically sit tight,” he said. “But yearlings and males … they are prowling around.”

In the case of the residents on Juan Street, they were unprepared, which is a mistake, Wright said.

“People slack off in the winter but if they did it year-round, it would be second nature,” he said of having sealed, bear-proof trash containers.

Pitkin County and the city of Aspen last year increased fines for people who don’t have wildlife-resistant containers. The law says there can be no overflowing trash or unsealed containers.

In Pitkin County, first offenses amount to a $350 fine, second offenses cost $500 and a third offense is $1,000, said Carrington Brown, code-enforcement officer for Pitkin County. The first offense will be waived if the offender buys an approved container after being issued a ticket, Brown added.

“We don’t want people’s money,” Brown said. “What we are trying to tell people is that this is serious.”

Brown said the money collected from fines goes into a fund and will pay for containers for people who can prove financial hardship and can’t afford to buy one.

The city of Aspen has increased its fines to $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $999 for the third offense, which also requires a mandatory court appearance, said Bobby Schafer, a community safety officer with the Aspen Police Department.

He added that the first ticket will be considered a warning if the violator complies with the ordinance and buys a legal container.

“We are going to start hammering out tickets,” Schafer said. “I don’t think it’s too early. We’re really going to be hitting residents hard to minimize the interaction with humans and bears.”

Last summer was a record year for interaction between people and bears. An unprecedented number of calls were placed to local authorities and 14 black bears in the county were put to death for aggressive behavior or repeatedly breaking into homes. Twenty-five were tranquilized and relocated.

Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said record snowfall in the Aspen area may keep some bears in their dens a bit longer than usual but it’s never too early to start “using bear-aware behavior.”

After hibernating, most bears are looking for grass and flowers. And because of so much precipitation this past winter, there should be plenty available.

“I don’t think the bear problems will start right away,” Hampton said.

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