Bear break-ins in Snowmass prompt warning

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

A bear sow with three cubs has broken into at least 14 cars in Snowmass Village since last week, prompting warnings from police and a wildlife official that people need to secure their vehicles and homes.

Snowmass Village’s animal services department on Wednesday put up a sign on Owl Creek Road near Highline Road that says “bear alert” in large, orange letters. Above the alert it instructs residents to keep windows and doors locked, while below there are brochures titled “Bears in Your Area.”

The pamphlets advise locking up cars and homes when residents are gone and at night: “PLEASE save the lives of the three little bears below and do not allow them to access human foods,” the brochure says above a photograph of the sow and cubs.

The mother bear’s spree began a week or so ago, when it got inside a vehicle that had food inside, said Kevin Wright, a wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The vehicle owners cleaned out the car, but the learned behavior brought the sow back. This time she broke a vehicle window to get inside, Wright said.

Other break-ins followed, with the animal damaging a jeep, a door handle on another car and the window on yet another vehicle. But mostly the sow has gained entry through unlocked car doors, said Wright, who has set up two traps in the village to capture and relocate the bruin family.

“We’re trying to get a hold of her before she breaks into any homes,” he said.

Snowmass Police Chief Art Smythe said one vehicle was in a parking lot near the mall, and another was in the Ridge Run subdivision. The bears are apparently roaming the mountain above the mall area.

Snowmass Village authorities put up this ‘bear alert’ sign, with brochures, Wednesday on Owl Creek Road after a sow broke into 14 cars in search of food.

Authorities believe it is the same, “fairly active” bear seeking out vehicles, Smythe said. One vehicle had its door bent backward, he said.

Wright said it’s understandable that people want to leave windows open given the warm weather.

“I realize it’s hot and that windows are cracked for ventilation, but people need to keep everything tight and locked, especially at the lower levels,” he said. “Lever-handled doors are notorious.”

Residents must remember they’re living in bear county, Wright said, and keep food out of vehicles and any accessible doors and windows tightly secured.

“Bears are opportunists — open windows and doors invite a kitchen raid,” the brochure says. “Do not corner a bear inside your home. Call police officers for assistance.”

The summer so far has remained fairly low key in terms of bear calls in the upper valley, Wright said.

“But I’m wary,” he added.

The vast majority of the state is experiencing drought conditions, and without rain, the bears’ main food source of choke and serviceberry bushes will not produce. Lack of moisture will cause the berries to simply wither and fall off, Wright said, and drive bears to other, possibly man-made, food sources.

“We definitely need moisture,” he said.

In other bear news, a young-adult male that had been sticking its head in tents at the Difficult campsite east of Aspen has been captured and relocated, Wright said.

The 230-pound bear was nabbed near the Weller campground on Independence Pass on May 30. It matched descriptions and had a similar modus operandi, he said.

“We believe we got the right bear,” Wright said.

The animal was released in the Piceance Basin north of Rifle.