Bear deaths expected to pile up |

Bear deaths expected to pile up

Scott Condon
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen TimesA large black bear runs across a street in Aspen. Wildlife officials believe they will have to kill more of the animals before winter.

ASPEN ” More bears may be killed this summer in Pitkin County than the 12 euthanized in 2002, wildlife officials say.

Six bears had been killed by wildlife officers in the county so far this year as of Friday, said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.

That high level bodes ill for the late summer and early fall, when voracious bears will feed for 20 hours per day trying to add enough fat to survive winter hibernation.

There is a shortage of natural foods in the wilderness because of a late frost and dry conditions. Hungry bears will be easily attracted to human sources of food.

“We’re getting 20 calls per day minimum,” Hampton said. “Many of those calls are for bears breaking into homes. Those are cases where we will put bears down.”

Hampton said the 12 bears euthanized in 2002 was the highest number in recent history.

The Division of Wildlife used to remain quiet about euthanizing bears, but it’s given access to the media this year in hopes that homeowners will see a connection between their actions and bears’ deaths, he said.

Bears link people with food when homeowners don’t secure trash, clean grills, keep pet food indoors or look windows and doors, Hampton said.

A bear that gets into a home through unlocked doors is likely to eventually break in, said Perry Will, the top wildlife official in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The wildlife division plans to make a direct appeal to Aspenites to comply with bear-friendly rules. A public meeting will be held this summer, probably before the end of August, Hampton said.

Hampton said the wildlife division receives calls every day at its offices throughout the state about its policy of killing bears that they break into homes. The agency also has a two-strike policy where “nuisance” bears are trapped and collared the first time they create trouble, then killed if caught again.

The exact number of calls isn’t tracked, but Hampton said he believes public opinion is split evenly between people who want bears killed and those who feel the animals should be put down when they invade trash cans.

But in Aspen, about 70 percent of residents don’t want bears killed, Hampton said.

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