Bears injure campers in Crater Lake area

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Signs are posted throughout Difficult Campground notifying campers of the new restrictions put in place on camping in tents or soft-sided campers due to an increase in bear activity. The restrictions have impacted reservations for next week's USA Pro Cycling Challenge. (Patrick Ghidossi/The Aspen Times)
Patrick Ghidossi |

Federal and state wildlife officials spent much of Saturday trying to hunt down and kill the black bears that attacked two Crater Lake-area backcountry campers in their tents in separate incidents within 24 hours.

In the first incident around dawn on Friday, a bear jumped on a tent housing two men near Crater Lake. One of the men was bitten on his left side and received small puncture wounds but was not seriously hurt, officials said. The bear was estimated to weigh about 100 pounds. The campers shouted and scared the bear away.

In a second, more serious attack around 1 a.m. Saturday at the Minnehaha Gulch campsite area above Crater Lake, a bear stomped a tent with a 51-year-old Front Range man inside. The bear bit through a sleeping bag and into the man’s leg, causing substantial injuries, officials said.

In that incident, two companions of the injured man, sleeping in separate tents, scared the bear off by lighting a fire. They then bandaged the man’s injured leg, alerted the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office through a GPS system and helped the man down a trail to an area where Aspen Mountain Rescue was waiting to provide assistance. The man was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital where he underwent surgery, a sheriff’s deputy reported.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said the man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening. The man requested that his name not be released, Porras said.

It was not known Saturday evening whether the same bear was responsible for both attacks.

Crater Lake lies within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area about 12 miles southwest of Aspen. State and local wildlife officials have said that bear encounters have become increasingly common in Aspen-area campsites and residential areas over the last few weeks partly because of a lack of natural food sources on the outskirts of town. However, food sources for bears are said to be abundant in the Crater Lake area.

Experts with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services on Saturday were attempting to track down the bear or bears responsible for the attacks, Porras said. “We’re being very careful to make sure that we track down the correct bear or bears. Our intention is to put it down,” he said.

Federal wildlife patrols planned to be in the Crater Lake area overnight Saturday as a measure of protection in case of the return of any bears.

“The area where the first incident happened is expected to have a full campsite tonight,” Porras said Saturday evening. “The U.S. Forest Service has increased the number of personnel at the campsite; they’re putting up warning signs and talking to campers about the situation in that area.”

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Pat Thrasher said the attacks occurred in popular backcountry sites but not formal camping areas.

Porras said it’s not known if the bears involved in the attacks were adults. The witnesses of the first incident described the bear as weighing around 100 pounds. They reported that their food was properly stored 75 feet away from their tent and there was nothing edible inside the tent.

The man in the second attack, who was more seriously injured, told wildlife investigators that he had an empty food wrapper inside his tent but no food.

Another bear incident happened last Monday, many miles and a mountain pass away from Crater Lake, at the Difficult Campground five miles east of Aspen off Highway 82. In that incident, campers saw a black bear attack an unoccupied tent and they scared it away. Afterward, the forest service put an indefinite ban on tents and soft-sided campers at the campground, but did not close it.

As for the Crater Lake area, there were no plans Saturday to close the backcountry campsites where the Friday and Saturday attacks occurred, Thrasher said.

Thrasher and Porras said officials are especially worried about further attacks because thousands of campers are expected in the area this week to view Wednesday’s second stage of the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge, which starts in Gunnison, rolls over Cottonwood and Independence Passes and ends in Aspen.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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