Aspen, Colorado is enacting a law starting June 1, 2010 that all residents and businesses must have bear-resistant trash cans due to the increased sightings and interactions between black bears and humans. Officials are looking for ways to help residents who can’t afford the trash cans that can cost hundreds of dollars.
Grizzly bears are extinct in Colorado so although some people see cinnamon or brown-colored bears, they are merely variations of the black bear, Ursus americanus.
Black bears are more abundant in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado because of the expansion of humans into bear country and their lack of responsibility in proper trash disposal and food storage. The increase of fruit and crabapple trees in Aspen are contributing to the bear sightings. Last year, local and state wildlife officials had to kill 20 bears in the Aspen area after people were threatened by them, whereas other bears were relocated.
The irresponsibility of Aspen residents frustrates wildlife officials because they have to euthanize the bears. In 2009, it is guessed that black bears killed a 74-year-old woman named Donna Munson after having fed them for “a decade.” Many people don’t understand that bears, even after frequent human contact, are wild animals and like many animals, can be unpredictable.
Black bears are not social animals but they will tolerate others of their kind for food. An adult weighs between 200-600 pounds in a range of 500-600 square miles with a superior ability to smell. Cubs are born in January/February every other year and weigh about ½ pound. The cubs start emerging from their dens in early to mid-May at 10-15 pounds. Don’t run up to a cute little black bear cub just to take a picture of it because, chances are, the mother is close by and will be very defensive and dangerous.
If you come upon a black bear, raise your arms and make yourself look big while slowly backing away. You can also make lots of noise to scare the bear off but DO NOT run away as it will trigger the chase instinct. Playing dead only works on Grizzlies as they will only bat you around, sniff you and lose interest. Black bears seek out carrion, or dead animals, to eat and you can be sure to be their next meal if you decide to mimic a possum. If the bear becomes aggressive then fight back and use sticks and rocks. Do not throw food as a distraction as this will only associate humans with food.
While traveling through bear country, keep your dogs on leash near streams and avoid berry patches. The menu for a bear primarily consists of berries, nuts, insects, fish, carrion, honey, bee larvae and, of course, human trash.
Aspen bears seem to have a taste for high-quality food as they have been seen digging outside Aspen’s upscale restaurants as well as around multimillion-dollar homes. In another case in 2007, black bears broke into Ted Granada’s home and stole peaches and a 10-pound bag of sugar. Sometimes bears will kill and eat young Elk or small deer.
If you are staying in Colorado cabins or camping on a Colorado mountain, be sure to exercise proper food storage and disposal to avoid bear attacks and interactions.