Aspenites propose take-a-bear-to-lunch program

Posted: Friday, September 08, 2000

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) -- Facing a nightly barrage of hungry bears banging to get into garbage bins and clamoring to climb into condo kitchens, some residents of this resort town want to start an emergency feeding program.

Bears are dying almost daily across Colorado because hot, dry weather has wiped out their favorite berry and walnut food sources, forcing them to scrounge for food. Farmers, ranchers and beekeepers have killed some.

Division of Wildlife staff have had to kill those caught more than once raiding backyards and kitchens to fatten up for their long winter's sleep. About 100 have been killed this summer.

''A fed bear is a happier, more respectful bear. If the DOW allowed volunteers to take food to designated remote locations, within a matter of weeks many bears would be drawn out of the urban areas, our back yards, and kitchens. If the bears were fed now, they'd have a better chance to go into the winter healthy,'' said real estate broker Chris Leverich.

Several people have written letters to the editor supporting the idea. One writer, who did not give her name, said local grocers are willing to donate food that is too old to sell.

Biologists say the idea is ridiculous, and would only make the bears more dependent on humans. It also would be hugely expensive as bears spend about 19 hours a day eating this time of year.

Local state wildlife manager Kevin Wright said the local bear population is probably too high, and winter mortality likely will take care of it.

''It's nature's way,'' he said. And that has held the statewide population of bears steady at about 12,000 in recent years.

Department spokesman Todd Malmsbury pointed out that Colorado has experienced five years of above-average moisture, which has boosted the growth of berries, acorns and other bear forage and possibly has caused a slight rise in the population to match the increased availability of food.

''Maybe were just catching up to what the area can support in a normal year,'' mused Wright.

An emaciated 2-year-old bear killed in Fort Collins on Tuesday weighed only 100 pounds and had less than a quarter-inch of fat. A bear should have about two inches of fat about this time of year, said David Clarkson of the wildlife division.

''The poor critters are just starving,'' Clarkson said.



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