Bears tracked in Roarking Fork Valley |

Bears tracked in Roarking Fork Valley

Donna Gray
Special to the Daily/Colorado Division of WildlifeThis 3-year-old male fits the profile of a "problem" bear because of his young age and inexperience, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

ROARING FORK VALLEY – A study of black bears in and around Glenwood Springs and Aspen begun last year has produced preliminary information about bear habits.The five-year study of human and bear conflicts in the Roaring Fork Valley is a collaboration of the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), the USDA Animal Health Inspection Service’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins and Colorado State University. Headed up by Stewart Breck, research wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Research Center, the study will focus on conflicts between bears and humans in Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Breck has conducted similar studies on bears in Yosemite National Park in California and Mexican wolves in Arizona. The study comes at an opportune time as bear and human conflicts are on the rise in the valley.

“Bear complaints have increased dramatically,” in the last year, said terrestrial wildlife biologist John Broderick, who works out of the Glenwood Springs DOW office and is an expert on bear behavior. Both cities are prime bear habitat and efforts by DOW to educate people about how to live with bears have not been effective.Last year, six bears were trapped and fitted with special collars armed with a global positioning system and radios for tracking. While the radio allows wildlife biologists to locate a bear within a given area, the GPS can pinpoint a bear on the ground. Five of the bears were followed around Aspen and one in Glenwood Springs.The Glenwood Springs bear was captured after eliciting complaints of his wanderings around downtown. Let loose on the Grand Mesa, he returned to Glenwood soon after and was seen around a day care center. The DOW has a second strike policy for repeat offenders. The bear was destroyed.

Sharon Baruch-Mordo, a graduate student in wildlife biology at Colorado State University who is conducting the study, said tracking the bears allowed her to observe their foraging habits. Some wandered throughout Aspen neighborhoods as well as foraging outside town in more natural habitat.Two yearling bears spent quality time together.

“They hooked up and did a huge walkabout,” Baruch-Mordo said, in the Difficult Creek drainage.An adult female who had been wandering around Aspen headed up Smuggler Mountain in August and stayed there, feasting on abundant serviceberries and chokecherries that were ready for harvest.Part of the study is intended to track bear movements in and around the two towns and determine just what they’re eating.In 2007 and 2008, the DOW will target neighborhoods where bears appear to be returning over time and focus education efforts on the people who live there.”It could be our message is getting to 90 percent of the people and they are acting correctly, but the 10 percent who aren’t” may be enough to tip the scales in bear behavior that keeps them coming back to town and becoming nuisances, Broderick said. “The number of conflicts is going up and that begs the question, how effective is (our) education.”

This spring, Baruch-Mordo and DOW wildlife officers have captured and collared eight bears, one of whom was also collared last year. This year, she fit them with new collars that allow her to download GPS locational information while they are wearing them. Last year the data was retrieved from the collars after they were remotely released from the bear’s necks.”We have a downloadable GPS fix every 15 minutes,” she said.Like last year, 2006 is shaping up to have good forage for bears, which in turn will reduce their conflicts with humans.Vail, Colorado

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