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Bears could be killed off after busy year

John Colson
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen TimesA bear cub pokes its head above a planter of daisies this summer on Bleeker Street in Aspen.
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ASPEN ” A record-breaking year for bear activity is finally winding down, but the number of meetings between humans and the animals is sparking a conversation about thinning the bear population, a state Division of Wildlife official said Wednesday.

“We’re talking about, biologically, if development, human population growth, recreation use and energy use have reduced bear habitat to the point where we need to reduce the bear population in the state of Colorado,” said Wildlife Division spokesman Randy Hampton.

This year might break state records. It certainly did so in Pitkin County, where 13 bears were euthanized, 24 relocated and four cubs were taken to a rehabilitation center.

“It’s a record year for relocations, cubs taken to the rehabilitation center, road kill, bears that we had to put down, all of those things,” Hampton said. “It was ” I say was ” I’m hoping it has passed, it was a tough year.”

The possibility of thinning the bear population or of increasing the number of bear hunting permits, however, has some locals and state environmental groups worried.

“It’s upsetting news,” said Holly Tarry, state director for the Humane Society. “Black bear populations manage themselves based on the resources that are available to them. Keeping them out of human areas is a human responsibility. We’re very disappointed that thinning would be an option.”

Hampton said the Division of Wildlife has been pushing education efforts regarding trash, and he praised local lawmakers for increasing fines for bear-related violations. However, he doesn’t believe the education and enforcement efforts have been successful enough.

“[Aspen has] such a transient population, in terms of people who come for a week and leave,” Hampton said. “We have tourists who are not used to living in those communities. There are challenges to exerting that kind of [educational] effort.”

The wildlife agency is running out of places to relocate bears after such an intense summer, and different interest groups are pushing in many different directions. Hampton said ranchers, for instance, are pressuring the Wildlife Division to kill more bears.

Some areas, such as Colorado Springs and Pueblo, had good moisture in the spring and ended up with regular to low numbers of bear calls. But Aspen police say they spent roughly a third of their time this summer dealing with bear problems. For example, there were 435 calls to 911 between July 30 and Oct. 24 about bears.

“There were a lot of bears just being bears,” said Melissa Clare, a community safety officer with the Aspen police.

It was when the bears get into trash cans, houses and cars, however, that things got dangerous for people and officers. A bear charged Clare when she fired a beanbag at it after it had entered a house. When she fired a second round at the charging bear, it turned and ran away.

Two upper valley residents were not as lucky: A bear entered Judith Garrison’s Aspen condo about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 17. The woman surprised the bear in the kitchen, and it clawed her in the face, causing serious injuries. On Oct. 11, a bear attacked 71-year-old John Clark in his garage on East Sopris Creek in Snowmass.


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