Aspen police issue unprecedented amount of bear in trash tickets this summer |

Aspen police issue unprecedented amount of bear in trash tickets this summer

Carolyn Sackariason
Aspen Times
Recycling containers were knocked over by bears on Thursday night and Friday morning at the Rio Grande Recycling Center. Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

Despite education campaigns, one-on-one interactions with Aspen Police officers, warnings and publicity around the dangers of leaving unsecured trash available for bears, a total of 25 people have been issued a citation for doing just that.

It’s an unprecedented amount of tickets issued this summer by the Aspen Police Department and its team of community response officers.

“We’ve worked hard to educate but the message is out that businesses, restaurants, residents and visitors have to secure their trash,” said Ginna Gordon, supervisor of the APD’s community response officers.

They have ramped up their “Bear Aware” campaign, placing message boards on roads leading into town and neighborhoods where bear activity has been high, urging people to lock their homes, cars and trash cans.

So far this summer, there have been 34 home intrusions within city limits, and most of them are because doors were left unlocked.

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Same goes for the dumpsters that line the alleys of the commercial core in downtown Aspen, where they are knocked over and rummaged through by bears on a daily basis.

“We’ve really been focusing on the core and cleaning up those alleys,” Gordon said.

On Friday at 6:30 a.m., several dumpsters had been knocked over in downtown alleys but the only one that a bear was able to get into was at Wells Fargo.

Much of the garbage appeared to be employees’ lunches and snacks, with a large container of pretzels ignored by the bruin.

On Thursday night alone, there were four calls for officers to handle crowd control around bears that were in the downtown core, according to Gordon.

Starting at just before 8 p.m., a bear was in front of the police station on Main Street with people walking around it.

Then an hour later a report came in that a crowd was following a bear on Durant Avenue.

At almost 11:30 p.m., a crowd in the 300 block of E. Hyman Avenue surrounded a bear.

And at 12:30 a.m., a report came in that was a bear in a tree with people surrounding it.

“A police presence was requested to tell people to stay back, this is a wild animal,” Gordon said. “It can be frustrating because it’s a public safety concern and at times people are too comfortable.

“If you were in the wild and saw a bear you would keep your distance and respect its environment.”

Thursday night’s events are reminiscent of a couple of days in the fall of 2017 when a mother bear and her cubs were trapped in a tree on the Cooper Avenue Mall because people were crowding around and harassing them.

Resource officers began the summer going to each business and restaurant educating staff about the importance of securing trash.

They explained that once a bear is habitualized to food through garbage, the less likely they are going to look for a natural food source, and that food attractants lead to increased bear-human conflicts, often resulting in bruins being put down.

It became a safety issue once again this past Sunday night when a worker at Steakhouse 316 got bitten by a bruin that was in the restaurant’s dumpster.

It also landed the Hopkins Avenue restaurant a second citation for violating the trash ordinance by having an unsecured dumpster. Steakhouse 316 received a $250 fine Aug. 6. Twelve days later, the restaurant got a second fine that cost $500. If it happens again, the restaurant will have to pay a $999 fine and go in front of a municipal court judge.

This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials found and euthanized the 400-pound bear.

“A bear this size and unafraid of humans could have easily killed a person with little effort,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita said Friday in a statement. “It’s unfortunate this bear had to die for this reason, especially when you consider it was totally preventable. Based on our experience, there was no chance this bear could be rehabilitated after it bit a person.”

CPW put down a bear earlier this summer after it had bitten a hiker on the Hunter Creek Trail. A necropsy revealed that the bear’s stomach was full of bird seed.

And the sightings are expected to increase, according to CPW, because bears are in a “feeding frenzy” as they prepare for hibernation.

APD Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra noted one reason for the increased citations and home intrusions is because of heightened bear activity in Aspen.

“We’ve been hammered these last 30 days,” she said, adding that the APD is working with the CPW to address the growing problem. “We are just concerned about the public safety aspect of it.”

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