Tourists have arrived in Aspen for the summer. Second homeowners are back wiping down the patio chairs and firing up the grills.
You know who else is back? The bears, big time.
The Roaring Fork Valley has two bear coalitions working toward creating a safer cohabitation system for humans and bears, and it’s needed.
Bear incidents are already up in 2023. According to Rachael Gonzales, public information officer for the Northwest Region of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, there have been 109 reported incidents/sightings from April 1 to June 12. During this same period in 2022, there were 90 incidents/sightings.
“These numbers reflect reported incidents in Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood wildlife management districts located in Garfield, Eagle, and Pitkin counties,” she said. “I say reported because an incident/sighting could have occurred, but if it is not reported to CPW, we don’t know it occurred.”
Human-bear conflict prevention is a community effort. CPW works closely with local governments in the Roaring Fork Valley to educate community members and visitors. This includes exploring new efforts in education, bear-resistant infrastructure, improvements within the local communities, hazing, and increased enforcement for violations.
“In 2022, Area 8 was awarded a $225,000 grant for projects to minimize human-bear conflicts in the Eagle and Roaring Fork Valleys,” said Gonzales.
She added, “Funding from this grant program will be utilized by CPW Area 8 staff to partner with matching funds from municipalities, counties, and other stakeholders to coordinate regional solutions toward reducing human-bear conflict.”
The goal of the project is to unify communities and provide a regional strategy toward working together and providing meaningful, long-term solutions to the ever growing human-bear conflicts within both valleys.
Nicole VandeBoom created the Aspen Bear Alliance to address this very situation. After addressing city council this past winter, she’s been busy at work getting her message out.
Six months in, she has a dedicated social-media platform, educational materials, and scheduled events. She’s also actively creating a spreadsheet to help better track and document bear incidents to help the Aspen Police Department.
As she intensifies her efforts and applies for non-profit status, she is dedicating her summer mission to education of electrified mats to deter bears.
“It works. I have camera footage of bears stepping on the mat and leaving immediately,” she said.
VandeBoom added she hopes to distribute as many mats as possible this summer while attending community events to help spread the word. And, she has tested the map herself and said it feels like a tiny little bee sting, nothing harmful.
“It’s about community engagement. Let’s work together. We want bears to stay wild, we don’t want town bears. CPW doesn’t like this,” she said. “It’s an unfortunate part of their job. Even law enforcement, when they come across a nuisance bear who has been habituated to human scraps, it’s not what they like to encounter.”
“Knowledge is power. It can make a difference in a bear’s life,” she added.
Daniela Kohl started the Roaring Fork Valley Bear Coalition in 2019.
“I started my local, boots-on-the-ground, non-profit bear advocacy group in 2019, with the primary focus on education from Aspen to New Castle and Glenwood Canyon,” she said. “We started giving out bilingual fliers, putting up yard signs, banners for NeighBEARhood watch, going door to door educating and asking people to lock, secure, and remove any attractants, exchanging bird feeders for nesting boxes and bird baths during summer.”
She offers bear deterrents, rechargeable siren blasters (better than airhorn), and bear spray.
“Education does work, even though I have been told otherwise,” she said. “My group will continue helping to keep our bears wild and out of trouble with pro-active and solution-based efforts by empowering local citizens and responding to community needs.”