Aspen human-bear encounters up this year with lack of natural food sources
The Aspen Times
ASPEN — A lack of food in the wilderness is causing a serious bear problem throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, with eight to 10 calls a day just in the Aspen area in recent weeks, officials said Tuesday.
Kurtis Tesch, wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said he and his colleagues have been receiving as many as 20 calls a day from Glenwood Springs to Aspen about bears in the past two to three weeks.
The animals frequently break into cars and houses looking for food and have caused serious damage, according to Tesch and wildlife officials from Pitkin County and the city of Aspen.
Pitkin County’s Emergency Dispatch Center issues a “bear report” every day that compiles all the bear calls received from Aspen, Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and Basalt. Dispatchers have received between six and nine calls per day for the past week, according to the reports.
Some of the more dramatic entries include one from July 11, when a caller on Park Avenue in Aspen reported that a bear was in the house and he and his family were trapped in the kitchen. The same day, another caller on Cottonwood Lane in Aspen reported that a bear pulled the screen off a window, entered the home and destroyed the kitchen at about 2 a.m. Twenty minutes after that, another caller at Hunter Creek Apartments reported a bear in their kitchen and bedroom.
Tesch said the berry crop in the mountains hasn’t fully developed yet because of the cool spring, which was followed by a hot and dry June and not much rain yet in July. On top of that, the acorn crop — which is a huge food source for bears — “is not looking good,” he said.
“If we don’t get (a decent acorn crop), we’ll be dealing with this for a while,” Tesch said.
So far, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have euthanized four bears from the Aspen area this summer and relocated another, Tesch said. Generally, relocation doesn’t work because the bears simply show up again, but the bear that was relocated was a yearling and officials wanted to give it another chance, he said.
Aspen Police Officer Dan Glidden, the department’s bear expert, said the problem this year is far worse than last year, which was “a picture-perfect year” with decent rains and a good crop of berries and acorns.
“This year’s not getting off on a good mark,” Glidden said.
Glidden did credit Aspen’s downtown core restaurants with doing a good job this summer of keeping trash secure. He said he’s only written two tickets in the past couple of weeks for business trash violations downtown.
ReRe Baker, Pitkin County’s animal safety director, and Tesch said most of the problem areas this year have been in Mountain Valley and other areas east of town like McSkimming Road. Red Mountain also has been problematic, they said.
All three officials urged people to keep windows and doors in cars and homes locked. People can also spray window and door frames with bleach, or place a plastic container with holes in the lid containing about an inch of bleach near windows and doors to deter the bears. Change the bleach weekly, he said, because its potency decreases.
“That seems to be helping,” Tesch said.
People can also place sprinklers with motion sensors in problem spots, Glidden said.
Finally, Tesch cautioned people to keep outdoor grills clean and refrain from placing pet food and birdseed outside.
Tourism and outdoor recreation employ a lot of people, but those workers’ wages are below county and regional averages.