‘We’re going to kill more bears’ | VailDaily.com

‘We’re going to kill more bears’

Charles Agar
Vail, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesPerry Will, district area wildlife manager, checks the black bear euthanized on Friday at the Wildwood School near Aspen.

ASPEN ” Kevin Wright is tired of killing bears.

Friday, for the second time last week, the longtime wildlife manager was forced to euthanize an animal. This time it was a 350-pound male bear that had become aggressive and repeatedly broke into the Wildwood School east of Aspen, smashing a large window and, most recently, punching through a wall.

“I’m not killing a bear just to make an example of it. When I kill a bear, it’s because I have to,” Wright said. “Every single one of these bears that we’ve had to trap or euthanize could’ve been prevented.

“People don’t get the message. I’ve been turned into the executioner,” he said. “I don’t know how to get people to listen to me.”

Wright was visibly distraught when he injected the bear with potassium chloride, said Anne Sullivan, a bookkeeper at the school.

“He could barely speak,” she said.

In a year when a late frost killed the natural food supply, more bears are getting hooked on human food ” even adult bears who usually avoid humans, Wright said.

“Aspen sits in prime bear habitat, and we’ve had a massive food failure this year,” Wright said. “People need to take some responsibility for where they live.”

Becky Helmus, director of Wildwood School since 1982, said the school has long had bear-proof garbage containers and staff and students are careful about food and garbage.

This bear was “more aggressive than most,” she said.

Students were on a field trip when Wright did the grisly job of putting the animal down, Helmus said.

“I don’t like seeing animals killed either,” Helmus said. “It’s a sad situation all around. … I don’t take this lightly.”

In coming weeks Wright will be setting more traps for problem bears and promised “some aggressive action” in Aspen.

Similar incidents are likely in coming months, especially in early autumn when bears forage nearly around the clock in preparation for winter, said Randy Hampton, a Division of Wildlife spokesman.

“It’s only going to get worse,” Hampton said. “The bottom line is, we’re going to kill more bears.”

The Division of Wildlife relocates some bears. On the same day officials euthanized the bear at the Wildwood School, they trapped a 300-pound male in Aspen and transported it to an area west of Glenwood Springs.

Hampton said transporting bears doesn’t always work. With the boom in rural development, there are few places to drop bears that aren’t already crowded with established animals. Territorial fights often result in the death of younger animals.

And there are few areas far enough from human habitation where the hungry bears don’t go back to their old ways, especially during a “bad food” year, he said.

If people are angry about the situation, they can contact the Division of Wildlife about forming a “Bear Aware” team of citizens who educate their neighbors about the problem, Hampton said.

Bear Aware teams operate in Glenwood Springs, Parachute and Debeque, Hampton said.

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