Pitkin County was busy with bear calls in 2023

Pitkin County led Colorado’s 64 counties by far in 2023 for bear reports and instances where bruins got into trash in 2023, according to a report released by Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Monday.

There were 429 bear reports logged in Pitkin County in 2023. That ranged from 250 “sightings” of bears to 105 cases where bears were able to access trash or other human food sources. There were also 28 cases where Aspen-area bears broke into vehicles, the report said.

The definition of a sighting is pretty broad, said Joey Livingston, statewide public information officer for CPW.

“That could be a bear walking down the street or a bear in a campsite or a situation where the reporting party sees the bear damaging something like a fence, or sees the bear breaking into their shed,” he said.

Seven bears were euthanized in Pitkin County in 2023, second only to the 10 put down in El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs.

The next highest number of bear reports was 272 in both El Paso County and La Plata County, which includes Durango. Boulder County had 270 reports. Closer to home, Eagle County had 163 bear reports in 2023 and 58 cases where bears accessed trash, but no euthanizations. Garfield County had 181 bear reports, 41 cases of bears getting into trash and one euthanization.

Statewide, CPW received 3,526 reports of bear sightings and human-bear conflicts. That was a 21% decrease from the average number of reports from 2019-23, the agency said.

A bear tangles with a dumpster on Castle Creek Road in July 2021. While the dumpster was secured, the bruin was able to reach through a crack and snag garbage bags. Scott Condon/Aspen Daily News

“There are an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 bears in Colorado and every year the majority of incident reports involve bears trying to access human food sources,” CPW said in a news release accompanying the report. “2023 was no different with trash continuing to be the number one source of conflicts. Other constant sources of conflict included birdfeeders, livestock and bears accessing open garages and other human-originated items that are left unsecured. These conflicts could all easily be reduced if the public takes some simple steps around their homes and properties to prevent bears from accessing them.”

CPW provides loads of information on living with bears and other wildlife at cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeWildBears.aspx.

Nearly half of the bear reports in 2023 resulted in property damage to a home, garage, shed, vehicle or some other structure. Nevertheless, 2023 was a good year for reductions in human-bear conflicts. Reports fell from 4,147 in 2022, a decrease of about 15%. There were also 94 bears euthanized in 2022 compared to 63 last year.

CPW said 2020 was a particularly bad year for human-bear conflicts due to drought and a late spring freeze limiting natural forage production. There were 4,806 bear reports that year, with 158 bruins put down.

“One concern CPW is aware of from the public is a reluctance to report bear activity over a belief it will lead to the bear being put down,” the agency said. “Data shows that of the 3,526 reports wildlife managers received on bears in 2023, only 1.8% led to euthanization. The vast majority led to wildlife officers getting involved early enough to prevent the need to euthanize a bear.”

To help people co-exist with bears, CPW started its Human-Bear Conflict Reduction Community Grant Program. Last year it awarded nearly $1 million in grants to communities, businesses and non-profit organizations for a variety of projects. The town of Snowmass Village received $57,500 for a bear-proof, curbside container program.

A volunteer-based organization called the Roaring Fork Bear Coalition works throughout the valley to reduce conflicts. Its motto is, “Saving Bears One Trash Can at a Time.” More information is available at www.roaringforkbears.org.

A bear getting into unsecured trash in this undated photo. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported that more than half of its statewide bear reports in 2023 involved bears getting into trash and food sources. Courtesy of CPW