Wildlife officials frustrated over bear conflicts in Aspen and Snowmass Village
State wildlife officials are frustrated because they feel not enough Aspen-area residents and visitors are taking the potential for conflicts with bears serious enough.
The lackadaisical attitude could have dire consequences, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita. He said the CPW regional staff members shake their heads in meetings because they cannot figure out how to increase bear-aware compliance among people in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.
“We’re kind of holding our breath and waiting,” Yamashita said. “Somebody’s going to get hurt.”
As an example, he said people in Aspen learn about bears breaking into homes in their immediate neighborhood via unsecured windows and doors but still don’t take precautions.
“The message doesn’t get through,” Yamashita said.
Rather than acknowledging the danger and taking precautions, people perceive the situation as bears being bears. In contrast, wildlife officers don’t view bears eating out of recycling bins or feasting on bird feeders as natural behavior, Yamashita said. And breaking into homes is definitely not acceptable bear behavior, he added.
Mike Porras, CPW public information officer for the Northwest Region, said the daily Pitkin County 911 bear reports illustrate how severe the problem is on a nightly basis. There are typically five or more bear incidents per night, often involving break-ins of homes.
“Keep in mind, by our estimates, there may be at least two or three additional conflicts not reported for every conflict listed in the (reports),” Porras said in an email. “Some people don’t report conflicts with a bear because they believe the bear will be killed. In some cases they are correct but by making the irresponsible decision to not report a dangerous bear, they are risking human health and safety, which is our primary consideration.”
The Pitkin County 911 bear report for Aug. 11 showed 11 incidents involving a bear Aug. 10 and early Aug. 11. In one case, a bear broke into a home on Mascotte Lane. The reporting party wanted it documented for insurance purposes.
A property manager for two houses on McSkimming Road reported at 2:52 p.m. on Aug. 10 that bear break-ins occurred at both residences.
Another party reported that a bear was stuck in the former Boogie’s Building at about 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 10.
At 11 p.m., a man reported a bear was just being a bear, but people were trying to take selfies with the bruin in the background near the downtown core.
At 5:37 a.m. on Aug. 11, a woman on King Street in Aspen reported a bear was in the house traveling from the kitchen to another room, which was across from the room where her son was located. The family dog was in the room with the bear.
The Aspen Police Department logged 20 home intrusions by bears in July. The department responded to 304 bear calls as of Aug. 13, and it has written 17 tickets for failure to secure trash.
In Snowmass Village, there have been 43 home entries over the summer, 14 vehicle entries, 233 bear reports of some type and 19 trash violation tickets.
Yamashita said enforcement is a key factor to reducing human-bear conflicts. He said enforcement has improved in the valley.
“The missing component is we need public buy-in,” he said.
Porras said bears apparently have easy access to food in unlocked dumpsters and trash cans, bird feeders, dirty grills and pet food left outside, as well as access to homes through unsecure doors and windows.
“As I’ve mentioned, because of the number of bears entering homes or exhibiting aggressive behavior in and around this community, we believe it is only a matter of time before someone in the Aspen/Snowmass Village is severely injured or killed,” he wrote.
Yamashita estimated there have been three to five bear entries into homes per night in the upper valley this summer. He characterized it as an “average conflict year.”
Since April 1, CPW staff has received 483 calls on bears in Pitkin County. Seven of the bears were euthanized.
Many of the conflicts, including break-ins, can be prevented, Yamashita said. People just need to secure windows and doors. Like Porras, he said the danger can’t be stressed enough.
CPW has a section of its website dedicated to living with bears and avoiding conflicts. The information can be found at https://cpw.state.co.us/bears.
The city of Aspen suggests that residents and visitors take these steps to reduce the chance of conflicts with bears.
• Lock your home: Residents should ensure that all ground floor windows are secured and shut, all entry doors are locked shut. Close off dog doors.
• Secure your trash: It’s up to you to ensure your trash container is property latched every time. In the city of Aspen, trash can only be left out in wildlife-resistant containers from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on your specified trash pickup day.
• Give bears space: It is illegal to harass wildlife in the state of Colorado. Harassment can include gathering around, pursuing, or trying to take pictures with bears.
• Remove attractants: Keep BBQs clean, store pet food indoors, remove bird feeders. Bird feeders of all types are potent bear attractants. A bird feeder will draw a bear directly to the windows of your home. Bears have a great memory and will continue returning to a location if they have found food. Remove all food and food waste from your vehicle(s) including wrappers and empty containers.
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