ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – Forestry officials were putting campers near Aspen on high alert Saturday after two separate backcountry campers were bitten through their tents by black bears in the last two days.
A third attack at a Forest Service campground closer to town last week didn’t injure anyone but prompted restrictions on tents and extra warnings.
Mike Porras of Colorado Parks and Wildlife said the first camper was attacked just before dawn Friday, when a bear jumped on a tent housing two men near Crater Lake. One was bitten on his left side but was not seriously hurt.
Porras said those men saw the bear, which they estimated at about 100 pounds, raise up on its hind legs, then stomp the tent. The man it landed on lay still, but when he moved, the bear bit him, causing small puncture wounds. Those campers started shouting and the bear ran off, Porras said.
The second, more serious attack happened around 1 a.m. Saturday a few miles away at the Minnehaha Gulch campsite area above Crater Lake. In that incident, a man alone in his tent was bitten on his right leg through the tent and a sleeping bag.
He was camping with two other men in separate tents, who shouted and threw rocks at the bear without managing to scare it off. Porras said the bear let go but stayed nearby and ran off only after the campers lit a fire to scare it.
After getting the bear to run away, the two companions bandaged the injured man’s leg and helped him down a trail to meet rescuers they had called. Porras said the injured man was hospitalized and needed surgery Saturday.
A wildlife officer interviewed him and described his leg wounds as “substantial but not life-threatening,” Porras said. The injured man wasn’t identified.
It is not known whether the same bear attacked both men. “Our intent is to find the bear that did this and put it down,” Porras said.
Porras said that the first campers attacked properly stored their food 75 feet away from the tent and had nothing edible inside. The man who was more seriously injured told wildlife investigators that he had an empty food wrapper in his tent but no food.
The attacks happened within the Forest Service’s Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area. A spokesman for the Forest Service, Pat Thrasher, said the attacks happened not at formal campgrounds but at popular backcountry camping sites.
On Monday, a third bear attack happened a few miles away, at the Difficult campground close to Aspen. In that attack, campers saw a black bear attack an unoccupied tent and they scared it away.
After the sighting, the Forest Service put an indefinite ban on tents and soft-sided campers at the Difficult campground, but did not close it.
Thrasher said there’s no way of knowing whether the bear at the Difficult campground later bit a camper, but he said the campground is several miles and a mountain pass away from the other attacks.
Thrasher said at least six employees of the Forest Service were going through the Moroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area to tell hikers and campers about the attacks.
“At this time, we are not contemplating a formal closure” of the area, Thrasher said.
Thrasher said hikers and campers were being given information about alternate camping areas if they choose to leave. He said there is plentiful natural food for bear in the area, but Forest Service employees were being frank that bear attacks remained a danger.
“Right now, bears are in the process of bulking up for winter. They are on the move, and they are looking for food,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher and Porras said officials are especially worried about further attacks because thousands of campers were expected this week at the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge from Gunnison to Aspen.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)