Wild Colorado: 2010 was bear-y good for bruins around Aspen

Scott Condon
the aspen times
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times

ASPEN – The number of bears euthanized by state wildlife officers in Pitkin County dropped from 20 in 2009 to two this year while the number of relocated bruins fell from 33 last year to just one, according to a preliminary report by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Meanwhile bear complaints made to the Aspen Police Department plummeted in 2010. “What a difference in a year,” said Gretchen Born, community safety office supervisor.

APD officers had responded to 47 calls as of Nov. 9 that involved bears breaking into homes or rummaging through trash, or incidents that required hazing of bears or warnings for property owners for not taking enough action to prevent bears from accessing food, according to the department’s statistics.

That compares to 713 similar incidents in 2009. There were only 82 bear calls in 2008, another good summer for natural foods for bears, but there were 638 bear calls in 2007, according to APD statistics.

The department started tracking its educational contacts with residents for the first time in 2010. Those contacts, dubbed “knock and talks,” were typically made when officers spotted homeowners or business owners not taking sufficient precautions, or not complying with a new ordinance that requires bear-resistant trash containers that can only be placed outside on the day of pick-up. Those contacts boosted the total bear-related calls for the year to 360.

Born said it was most accurate to compare the 47 other calls in 2010 to the prior years’ totals.

The department was aggressive about taking its education efforts out on the streets in May, June and July.

Born said the education effort likely played a role in the reduced bears calls in 2010, but Mother Nature gets a big part of the credit because the natural food crop was so good. “It’s nature being nature,” she said.

Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said berry and acorn production was “extremely good” this year after a rainy summer and lack of a late frost.

“Other factors that also played a role include (the) strengthened Aspen ordinance requiring bear-resistant garbage containers, Aspen PD increased awareness and efforts on the issue, and the work of volunteer Bear Aware teams who got out educational information around the community in advance of the bears coming out of hibernation,” Hampton wrote in an e-mail.

Bear calls to the Aspen Police Department were running between 20 and 25 per night in August 2009. Now that the snow and temperatures are falling and bears are packing it in for the winter, Aspen officers can rest assured they avoided a repeat of the nightmare situation.

“Let’s just say it was less stressful,” Born said.

The findings in 2010 confirm the results of a multiyear bear study in the Aspen area by Colorado State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Numerous bears were fitted with collars starting in 2005, and researchers tracked their movement.

They found some bears search Aspen for food in trash containers and for other human sources of refuse during years when the natural food supply is poor. But the study also established that they stay in the backcountry and largely avoid civilization during years when the natural food supply is good, according to study leader Sharon Baruch-Mordo, a doctoral candidate at CSU.

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