Last month the US Forest Service closed down 11 campsites at Crater Lake near Aspen. The closure came after increased reports of bears destroying tents and stealing food. It was not too long ago when drought conditions and few food sources drove bears into the City of Aspen, causing a record 1,040 bear conflict calls in 2012. To avoid a repeat of the crisis two years ago, state wildlife officials have increased the number of bear tags offered to hunters over the past few years, and are considering offering more.
“There’s a lot of people out there that want to hunt bears,” Kevin Wright, district wildlife manage with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told the Aspen Times. “We’re hoping over time that can help. We’re trying to suppress the population, so we’ve got more licenses out there.”
The agency originally considered hiring sharpshooters to cull the bear population, but decided against it.
Officials say the bears are not to blame. Rather, it is the carelessness of visiting campers that caused the bears to become more bold in their interactions with humans. Forest rangers said that some campers would leave food wrappers scattered near their tent and keep food in unsafe storage containers, and generally lacked backcountry knowledge. Some even reported firing off warning shots to protect their camps, which officials say may not be all that effective in scaring off bears.
“We don’t really have a bear problem. We have a human problem,” White River National Forest spokesperson Bill Kight told the Denver Post.
Although no campers were injured in the spree of bear raids last month, the Crater Lake area is still expected to be off-limits to visitors for the rest of the year. The Forest Service is also considering closing off nearby areas as well in the hopes of deterring any possible bear conflicts.
Nearby in the city of Aspen, police responded to 209 bear calls in the month of August. August is the busiest month for the department as the end of summer generally causes bears to take more risks in their search for food. So far conservation officers have euthanized two bears near Aspen, which has strict ordinances regarding trash disposal and bear interactions. However, Wright said that many of these ordinances are not being enforced.
“The city’s own containers in the downtown core are not certified bear-proof containers,” he said.
City officials say they are increasing compliance, but it will take time before all the downtown stores have bear-resistant trash containers.