It’s been about a dozen years since our town has been frequented by bears each fall. They are perhaps the new, most loyal and consistent demographic of return visitors to Aspen. It seems as though we’ve finally figured out how to secure our trash and prevent dumpster diving, for the most part anyway. But the real problem these days are the hundreds of crabapple trees all over town — they are the new unsecured trash can of Aspen with respect to the bear problem we have here.
The human/wildlife interface in Aspen has reached an all-time high. It used to be a rare thing to see a bear. Up until I was in my late 20s, I’d only seen a bear in a zoo, then one day while mountain biking on Buttermilk a bear came trucking across the road in front of me in a huge hurry — coincidentally not far from the mighty Bear Jump. Now it’s almost as if we are accepting of bear traffic, and with all of the crabapple trees in town laden with ripe fruit, we’re actually encouraging bears to have an eating vacation in town.
On one hand, it surprises me after all of the painstaking effort we’ve taken as a community to raise awareness about bears eating trash. On the other hand, it doesn’t — because we’ve made a bad habit of letting just about any clown come here and set up shop. We have to make our town an unfriendly environment for bears, and strongly discourage their presence every chance we get.
If you make it through a week here in September without seeing a bear downtown or in the West End, you’re probably walking around with a bag over your head. There’s one area of the West End that I call the “petting zoo” because that’s exactly what it looks like. On any given day in September you can observe a line of cars stopped, people out taking pictures, families walking by with strollers, holding up iPhones and smiling, excitement is in the air. The other day there was a RV parked with people taking pictures. The bears couldn’t care less; they’re up in a crabapple tree eating free food. It’s kind of pathetic, really.
Being apathetic to bears eating crabapples is not a lot different than feeding the bears trash in the sense that the crabapple tree in not a native species. It’s also apparently difficult for the bears to digest crab apples — just look at their scat. You can see huge piles of bear crap all over town filled with undigested crabapples.
The solution is easy — prune your crab apple trees in the fall and they are way less likely to flower in the spring and produce fruit. If they do produce fruit, pick it. If you are incapable of either, consider removing the trees altogether. Crabapples are basically useless — no one eats them. Some make jam out of them, and when they get mushy, they make excellent projectiles.
Let’s face it, bears are the new celebrities of our town. Everybody’s talking about them, looking for them and taking pictures of them. Aspen used to pride itself as a place where we intentionally ignored celebrities. We’re one season away from marketing bear and golden-aspen-leaf viewing lodging packages. The sad thing is that you’re more likely to see a bear downtown than in the wilderness where they belong. If I never see another bear in my lifetime I’d be happy.
I’d like to strongly urge the city to do a more thorough job pruning all of its crabapple trees in the parks, and in front of all the city and county buildings, setting an example for businesses and homeowners alike. If you have any crabapple trees on your property I would suggest that you prune them immediately if you haven’t already.
If you are a property manager at a home who has crabapple trees, do your part by pruning the trees for the homeowners, thereby discouraging bears to frequent our neighborhoods. Otherwise we’re all part of the problem. As great a job as the city does I’m surprised that they don’t take better care of their crabapple trees.
As appealing as our town is, let’s focus on making it unpleasant for bears to visit. The logical next step in the insanity of the bear problem here in Aspen is letting bears go into local restaurants and order food right off of the menu.
To reach Lorenzo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.