Aspen Bear Alliance forms with hopes of an uneventful bear season to come

Audrey Ryan
Aspen Times
A bear cub and it's mother up in a tree on Hyman pedestrian mall.
Courtesy photo

ASPEN — When Nicole Vandeboom and her family moved from Chicago to Aspen, they took it upon themselves to research wildlife in the area and how to best avoid conflict. She was surprised to learn that not everyone who moves or vacations here does the same.

“We have bears in our yard, and since we’ve moved here, we enjoy watching them from afar,” she said. “We follow all the rules. We don’t keep our trash outside. So we’ve been able to enjoy co-existing with the bears without negative human-bear interaction.”

Vandeboom figured if she could follow the rules after moving here from a big city, then so could everyone else. For her and many other locals, the tipping point in human-bear conflicts was the euthanizing of a sow and four cubs in August 2022. This event resulted in a town hall-style meeting led by Brenda Lee, founder of the Colorado Bear Coalition.

The first meeting drew a lot of community members, but as time passed, fewer and fewer people were attending the meetings. Vandeboom said she was one of the only people who attended the final meeting with Lee.

“I had a lot of ideas and had been reading about bears. It felt really important to me, and that was a big loss for our community,” Vandeboom said.

With guidance from Lee, she decided she wanted to be a part of making changes in Aspen.

“I realized, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m showing up to the meetings. I have worked in non-profits before, so let’s tackle this. Let’s work on it,’” Vandeboom said, and with that, the Aspen Bear Alliance began.

“(Nicole) just started taking things on, and we started working with her,” said Lee. “We’re still very much involved, and I’ll be going up (to Aspen) another couple of times, so she can be educated on the lay of the land.”

Community buy-in is a critical piece in lessening human-bear conflict, Vandeboom said, and it begins with small changes in behavior.

“I can lock up my trash,” she said, “and be mindful when I’m hiking and put my dogs on a leash. I can do all of those things myself. But if a neighbor isn’t doing them or a visitor isn’t aware, it almost negates everything I do.”

As the Aspen Bear Alliance gets up and running, her main goal is getting people involved. She has already spoken to the Aspen City Council and communicated with other officials in the community. The next step is getting residents and visitors to understand what it means to live successfully for both species with bears.

She attended the “Science of Co-existing with Black Bears in Colorado” presentation by Stewart Breck, a carnivore ecologist at the National Wildlife Research Center, and said the community was excited to take human-bear interaction issues seriously.

“I just felt like the community response was so positive that night, and we can keep that energy and that momentum going into bear season,” she said.

According to Lee, attending meetings is crucial to getting started and making changes.

“We’re really going to be identifying what to focus on. Having people who have some time to put into it is great,” she said.

Daniela Kohl, founder of the Roaring Fork Bear Coalition, said it’s important that all three bear organizations collaborate and cooperate to keep human-bear conflicts at a minimum.

“It’s important, and I stress that, that we all work hand in hand with each other and law enforcement,” she said.

With bears soon to emerge again, Vandeboom said another of her goals is to make Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s job easy with a less eventful bear season.

“Let’s see if we can get it, so we don’t have any negative human-bear encounters, no bears getting into homes. That would be my ultimate marker of success: having an uneventful bear season,” she said.

Having an uneventful bear season requires residents and visitors to be aware of the rules and the consequences of not following safe bear practices. It also takes understanding the role that law enforcement, specifically CPW, plays.

“We can’t just point the finger at (CPW) and blame them. It’s just their job, and they’re trying to protect human life,” she said. “Now it’s time to do pro-active things and figure out what we can do differently this year. How can we reach residents? How can we reach tourists?”

For Lee and the Colorado Bear Coalition, long-term goals include changing the narrative of the phrase “bear problem” in all of the regions they work in.

“Instead of calling it a bear problem, we’re calling it problem behavior or problem with bears in town. The bears aren’t really the problem. It’s human behavior that needs to be addressed,” she said. “That’s what brought me up to Aspen.”

There is always room for people to get involved, Vandeboom said, and changes start with small things like storing trash correctly and getting rid of bird feeders.

“I want to live with the bears, but I don’t want humans hurt, and I don’t want bears hurt. So, let’s work together,” she said.

To learn more about Aspen Bear Alliance, visit

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