Wildlife division calls for Aspen meeting on bears
ASPEN – For the second time in two years, state wildlife officials will hold a community meeting in Aspen to seek solutions to the bear-human problem.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife will host the meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, at the conference room of the Limelight Lodge, 355 S. Monarch St.
While the situation isn’t necessarily an emergency, wildlife officials are desperate to find solutions to bear issues that are unprecedented elsewhere in the state. Wildlife officers have been forced to kill 12 bears from the Aspen area because of “dangerous behavior,” DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said. That is one fewer than the record number of bruins put down in 2007. Another bear is being sought for slashing an elderly man after breaking into his home last month.
The wildlife division has relocated another 27 bears from Aspen this year after encounters with humans, Hampton said. That is comparable to the relocation effort in 2007.
“This summer has been unlike anything we’ve experienced with bear-human conflict,” Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager for the wildlife division, said in a prepared statement. “We have brought in dozens of additional officers and aggressively worked to educate the public and relocate bears where possible, but the problems haven’t subsided. We’re going to need help from the people of Aspen if we’re going to keep future summers from being the same and if we’re going to make a difference for bears in the long run.”
Wildlife officials will discuss their position and role in handling the conflicts, and they want to hear from Aspen residents, Hampton said. Any viable solution will be welcomed. The wildlife division has repeatedly explained that it will not intervene by feeding bears because it doesn’t believe that is a viable, long-term solution.
The state agency called a similar community meeting in August 2007 that attracted about 70 people. The goal was to sign up volunteers to participate in “Bear Aware” teams the following summer to educate Aspen residents and visitors about ways to discourage bears from invading their property. Some people who attended that meeting expressed interest in joining the effort, but didn’t follow up the next summer, according to Hampton.
“Quite frankly, the community members fell flat on their face,” he said.
This year, the education effort can be resurrected. If that’s what people want, the wildlife division will provide resources to assist, Hampton said. The meeting will include representatives of the Aspen Police Department, city of Aspen, Pitkin County and the sheriff’s office.
Hampton said the circumstances are different now than in 2007. The earlier meeting was called, in part, so the agency could explain its handling of bear-human conflicts.
“People had a little frustration and didn’t want the DOW to put down bears,” he said.
This year, he believes people are aware that the problem is more severe. There have been encounters that resulted in minor injuries to three people. Two people were injured after bears broke into their homes; a third was sleeping in the sunshine outside when a curious bear approached her in a backyard. The woman had a mark from the encounter but didn’t require medical treatment.
Reports of bear activity have eased recently after a summer in which problems were reported nearly nonstop. “Bears are still breaking into houses looking for food,” Hampton said.
Typically, wildlife officials would suspect that bear activity would increase this time of fall as bears prepare for hibernation. However, wildlife division researchers are exploring the possibility that bears were gluttons all summer – tapping human food sources – so they don’t have to into a period of hyperphagia, where they really pack in the calories before hibernation, Hampton said.