Aspen’s bear traffic up a third in early going this year

 

Different colors of a black bear family. Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

The prolonged snow meant a late start to the bear season in the Roaring Fork Valley, but bear calls are up from last year at this time.  

“At the Aspen Police Department, for the year to date (as of mid-July), we have received 99 bear calls to our dispatch center — this number is up from 63 calls this time last year,” said Ginna Gordon, community response officer supervisor.

Black bears standing over a pile of corn in an Aspen neighborhood in summer 2022. The occupants said they were trying to feed … birds. Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Courtesy photo

Bear season is just getting started.

“Last year, call volume significantly ramped up in August and remained high through the fall hyperphagia months,” she said. “We can anticipate seeing similar trends going into this fall as bears will be trying to pack on the pounds before winter.”

She said the community needs to stay vigilant and continue to be bear-aware when it comes to securing waste and mitigating other human food sources that would entice a bruin such as bird seed, fruit trees, dirty grills, and such.

The Aspen Police Department has been able to use funds from the state Bear/Human Conflict Reduction Grant to pilot a part-time wildlife enforcement position. 

“This person has been actively engaged in education, prevention, and enforcement of solid-waste ordinances,” Gordon said. “As of Thursday, July 13, this position has logged over 350 contacts with businesses and community members. About 73% of her contacts have been pro-active, 17% education-based, and only 9% in response to a bear actively getting into trash or recycling.”

For the Aspen Police Department, that means this position has been able to patrol and address potential hazards prior to a bear making entry and the damage being done. 

“This is exciting because it allows us to get out in front of the problem rather than reacting to it,” Gordon said. “We hope to continue to take this assertive stance when it comes to the bear program, and we want to thank Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the state of Colorado for equipping us with the tools to face some of these challenges head-on.”

“Most calls I get are about bear sightings, starting early in April,” said Daniela Kohl, with the Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition, “but it’s ongoing with several weekly calls about trash issues and some container requests from Aspen to New Castle.”

 

A bear found its way into the building courtyard of the Hunter Creek 700 building on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 2022. Stephan Seubert/Courtesy photo

“Demands have been higher than last year, which is good because we can be pro-active and help minimize human-bear conflicts. Even CPW stated the previous week again that trash is still the largest source of conflict,” Kohl said.

The heavy winter snowpack impacted the bears, she said.

“It has kept our rivers running high well into July, and snow up high resulted in seeing bears lower this spring,” she said.

The wildflowers in the high country are just blooming now, and sows might have had cubs dispersed earlier than usual, looking for spring foods further into town due to late bloom.

“Usually, we almost always see bears around in the late summer or fall,” Kohl said.

Typical bears’ spring and summer foods are grasses and green vegetation, until berries begin to ripen.

“Preliminary natural food sources should be good this year, so I hope the bears return to the mountains. That is, if we do our job and clean up the trash lure, natural food is where they will flock towards,” she said.

“Two weeks ago, on a Friday morning, three hours apart during broad daylight, a yearling and sub-adult/adult were killed by a car collision on Highway 82 near the Wildcat turn-off, landfill, and Aspen Village,” she said.

“So far for 2023 in Eagle and Pitkin counties,” said John Livingston, Southwest Region public information officer for CPW, “I’ve got 294 total calls to CPW regarding bear activity — 188 of those were for sightings, 116 also had food source property damage, and 11 were for non-food-related property damage.”

For comparison, in 2022, the agency took 918 bear calls for those two counties, of which 420 of those were for food-source property damage and 62 for non-food-related property damage.

“In 2021, I see 700 total calls for the two counties,” he said. “Of those, 270 were for food-source property damage, and 60 were for non-food-related property damage. Of note, we often see an uptick in bear activity in late summer and fall as bears enter hyperphagia and are looking to eat as many as 20,000 calories a day to bulk up before winter denning.”

 

A bear peers from a tree during one of the nearly 5,000 bear reports that Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel responded to in 2020. Jason Clay/Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Breckenridge bears busy

In one of the highest elevation mountain resort towns in the western United States, bears have been on the prowl and more so than in recent years.

Robyn Goble, administrative specialist for records at the Breckenridge Police Department, reported nearly double the number of wildlife calls from two years ago, and the increase of bears calls has increased dramatically.

“The data I searched was from Jan. 1 to mid-July of each year. In 2021, there were 29 calls for service, and zero were bear-related. In 2022, there were 34 wildlife calls for service, and seven were bear-related. Thus far in 2023, there were 59 wildlife calls for service; 21 were bear related,” she said.

Sleepy Steamboat

In Steamboat Springs, bear calls were drastically down from 2022. Jamie Malone, interim administrative manager with the Steamboat Springs Police, pulled the numbers and documented that there were nearly two-thirds fewer calls this spring in May then the prior year. 

Bear statistics from Steamboat Springs. Steamboat Springs Police Department/Courtesy photo

Vail uptick

The Vail Police Department has received more calls about bears this summer than last year. During the period of March 1 through July 11, 2023, there were 50 calls about bears made to the Vail dispatch center, compared to 35 calls in the same time frame last year, the Vail Daily reported.

This increase is partially due to an individual bear in West Vail that the police and CPW are aware of and pursuing to relocate.