Tough winter looms for bears, cubs as food supply falls short
ASPEN – State wildlife officers estimate about 25 bears have been killed at the hands of man in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer. That’s nothing compared to what they expect Mother Nature will do over the winter.There will likely be a high mortality rate among cubs and yearlings in the Rockies because they won’t be able to put on enough weight to survive hibernation, according to John “J.B.” Broderich, a terrestrial biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
The mortality rate for cubs in places like the Roaring Fork River drainage could go as high as 75 percent this winter, according to Broderich. As many as 40 to 50 percent of the yearlings could die, he said.The young bears cannot put on enough weight because Colorado’s late-June frost killed acorn and berry crops – staples of the bears’ diets. Young bears are in the greatest jeopardy because they haven’t matured to where they can rely on body fat built up from prior years.
Adult bears may go into hibernation hungry this year and they may emerge skinnier than usual next spring, but they can rely on their reserves to survive, Broderich said.Kevin Wright, state wildlife officer for the Aspen district, said the effects of the late freeze and ongoing drought are evident in many bears he’s been forced to trap or otherwise deal with this summer. He’s noticed many younger bears have virtually no body fat right now.
Aspen has experienced record problems with bears roaming the town, seeking alternative sources of food. In addition to people being careless by leaving garbage and other food items accessible, some citizens erroneously think they are helping bears by feeding them, Wright observed.”There’s a big push for artificial feeding,” he said, citing letters to the editor advocating a bear feed at an isolated place like the county dump.
“That’s not going to do anything for the bears in Aspen,” Wright said. They won’t leave town for a different source.Besides, he said, it’s just not practical to set up a feeding site. Adult bears need 20,000 calories or about 40 pounds of food per day right now to prepare for hibernation. Providing a buffet for the large number of bears in the upper valley would require a fat bankroll.In addition, he doesn’t want to make bears dependent on artificial sources like a feeding area in the woods. Despite all the publicity about bears this summer, there are still enough careless people throughout the town and county to create problems, Wright said. They don’t close windows when they leave the house; they don’t secure their garbage; and they don’t remove tempting sources like dog food bowls or meat-stained grills outside, he said.Scott Condon is a staff writer for the Aspen Times. He can be reached at scondon@CMNM.org.Vail Colorado