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Aspen plans test to nip bear food in the bud

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Vail, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesThe flowering crab apple trees outside the Pitkin County Courthouse will be left alone, but the city of Aspen plans to experiment on other trees in the downtown core in an attempt to prevent them from producing crab apples, which bears find appealing.
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ASPEN – A selection of Aspen’s downtown crab apple trees, still a few weeks away from their showy springtime display, will be the focus of an experimental treatment when they blossom – an attempt to halt their production of fruit.

By late summer, the trees typically produce a bumper crop of bear food in a town that has long struggled to rein in access to various sources of food that attract bears, particularly garbage.

But the crab apples, too, have proven enticing to bears. There have even been suggestions that the beautiful, flowering trees be cut down.



That’s not a step City Forester Chris Forman wants to take.

Instead, 40-some trees lining the pedestrian malls on Galena and Mill streets, between Cooper and Durant avenues, will be sprayed this spring, when they blossom, in an attempt to prevent the resulting crab apples. The spray breaks down into a chemical naturally produced by plants, triggering the trees to abort the production of fruit for the season.



The spray has no insecticidal properties, and shouldn’t affect the honey bees that collect pollen from the abundance of blossoms, according to Forman.

Nonetheless, when the city first indicated last fall that it would try the spray for the first time this spring, Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley, a beekeeper, blasted the idea. He was adamant that the crab apple trees lining Main Street out front of the historic Pitkin County Courthouse not be touched.

They won’t be, said Forman, who doesn’t intend to treat all of the trees in various city parks and on other city properties, either.



“Before we go crazy with it, I want to see if it works,” he said.

Forman said he’s not aware of other communities that use the treatment for the reason that Aspen will – black bears drawn to the fruit – and the product doesn’t guarantee there won’t be a single apple on a treated tree. Fruit production is supposed to be greatly reduced, though.

The city will contract with a private tree-care company to apply the spray; the product is inexpensive, according to Forman, and the treatment is expected to be far less expensive than paying labor to pick the crab apples by hand.

Whether the treatment will affect the length of time the blooms are at their showy best remains to be seen.

“That’s certainly one of my concerns,” he said.

The competing desires of eliminating a food source for bears, while keeping one of Aspen’s revered signs of spring, is the ultimate goal.

“It’s one of those situations where it’s going to be a delicate balance,” Foreman said.

It’s not the only new step Aspen is taking this year with regard to bears. The City Council in March approved a rule that requires all property owners in Aspen to have a wildlife-resistant garbage can. Trash containers can only be left outside between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on pick-up day. The fine for a first violation is $250; and $500 for a second offense. The rules take effect June 1.

janet@aspentimes.com


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