Official: Aspen ignores bear problem
ASPEN ” The resort town should pay as much attention to bears as it does to canaries when it comes to environmental activism, the state wildlife manager for the region said this week.
Kevin Wright of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said an Aspen law designed to eliminate human sources of food for bears is widely ignored by residents and inadequately enforced by the city government.
“This town has to decide whether this is a priority or not,” Wright said.
Aspen launched its Canary Initiative last year to reduce its contribution to global warming. Wright believes it should be equally committed to wildlife issues ” like avoiding conflicts with bears.
Aspen passed rules years ago that require businesses and residents to secure trash in bear-proof containers. Residents and businesses are also supposed to eliminate potential food sources like hummingbird feeders, pet food and greasy grills.
“The amount of trash and compliance with the ordinance is the worst since the ordinance was enacted,” Wright said.
He estimated that there are seven to 15 calls per day about bear encounters with humans in Aspen and Pitkin County, often involving an animal in a house.
Activity picked up in May. June and July have been “terrible,” he said.
The wildlife division hasn’t killed any bears in Aspen this summer; three bears have been killed in Glenwood Springs after repeat encounters with humans.
The city of Aspen handles the bulk of the enforcement, although wildlife officers also can write citations when property owners don’t take adequate “remedial actions” following encounters with bears.
The Aspen Institute received a ticket from Wright during the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this month. Wright said the Institute was “terrible” at picking up trash.
“They had bears coming in every night,” he said. “At one point they had three bears.”
The wildlife division’s ticket lacks sting. It’s a $50 fine with an $18 surcharge.
The enforcement of the bear ordinance was assigned years ago to the city parking department, somewhat to director Tim Ware’s chagrin. Bears, after all, are notoriously ignorant of parking regulations.
Ware said he directed the city’s lone wildlife officer to get more aggressive in enforcing the ordinance this summer. The language in the law was tweaked a couple of years ago to switch from requiring bear-“resistant” trash containers to steel “bear-proof” containers.
Ware said he planned to make the rounds with the wildlife officer to check if Dumpsters are in compliance. The challenge with enforcement is finding the person responsible for not securing a Dumpster or for putting discarded food in a construction Dumpster, Ware said.
Warm, dry weather has driven some bears higher into the backcountry in search of natural foods sources, Wright said. But bears are opportunists and when they find human sources of food, they will keep returning to town.