As the late-summer and early fall “bear season” draws near, experts are stepping in to offer support and tips to the community before visitations become a regular occurrence.
Sightings of bruins are expected to be no less common this fall than in other years, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is encouraging the community to stay bear aware and make sure their homes are bear-proofed.
“Bear sightings in Aspen are common and as bears begin to increase their daily calorie intake, chances of seeing more in and around town are likely,” said Rachael Gonzales, CPW public information officer.
The state wildlife agency recommends keeping garbage stored in a secure location (except for the morning of pickup), keeping doors and windows locked, bringing pet food indoors and cleaning up areas that may smell of food such as grills or trash cans. For campers and visitors, CPW also recommends keeping vehicle doors and windows closed (with all food outside the vehicle), camping in a clean area, hanging food at least 100 feet away from a tent or campsite and cooking away from the campsite.
The Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition also offers support to community members and provides a wide range of services from installing bear-resistant straps on trash cans to providing advice to community members who are unsure of how to handle a bear situation.
The coalition distributes pamphlets in English and Spanish with information on how to address bear issues. It also serves as a liaison between local law enforcement and the community, and can help install chicken-coop fencing or clean trash cans.
“We just really want to help the community,” said Daniela Kohl, who founded the coalition in 2019. When people are concerned about a bear in their neighborhood, they can contact Kohl.
“We go look, check it out, check for food storage, and we talk to people before it hits that next step. Only so many people know about us because we’re small — we’re grassroots,” she said.
Kohl said it’s important to understand the responsibility of humans to keep bears safe and avoid situations in which a bear could find its way into a neighborhood or a home. Bears need about 20,000 calories a day to make it through hibernation, she said, and will eat just about anything they can get their paws on. They are attracted to areas that smell of food, so people should be wary of leaving food outside or inside with doors or windows open.
Kohl added that local law enforcement can play a large role in reducing bear interactions. The town of Snowmass Village encourages residents to use approved trash containers and report bear sightings. The town and the city of Aspen both impose fines for failure to comply with municipal trash ordinances.
In a valley where the bears are so close to residential areas, being bear aware should be normal, Kohl said.
“As humans, we have to change our behavior,” she said. “You just have to be more responsible. You have to lock that window, cut off access to trash cans and store everything. When you come here on vacation, you need to do better.”
According to the coalition, humans should not approach bears, try to feed wildlife or take “selfies” with them. If you see a bear, the coalition recommends speaking to the bear in a calm but assertive voice and slowly backing away. You should not run or play dead, according to the coalition’s website.
For more information or to contact Kohl, visit roaringforkbears.org.