PitCo limits native plants in development

Aug 22, 2016

A black bear hangs out in a tree on Main Street in Aspen
Credit Courtesy of aspenpitkin.com

Bears are crafty and have good memories, and when they’re hungry, it’s a lot easier to dig into the neighbor’s trash than to find a dozen pounds of berries.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) recently released a series of “Bear Aware” videos on its website describing how people can do their part to keep bears wild.

In a video called “Bear-proofing Your Home,” CPW’s Kristin Cannon explained, “The best thing you can do to protect bears is to secure all attractants on your property. We expect that bears may move through your property at times eating fruit or natural food, but what we don’t want is for bears to associate people or their dwellings with food.”

Pitkin County goes one step further, eliminating that natural food on your property altogether. Based on CPW recommendations, the county does not allow for any nut, berry or fruit producing trees or shrubs in landscaping plans for new development.

“Unfortunately, if we’re allowing human development, it’s attracting bears and they are becoming nuisance bears, and then they’re having to eventually kill them,” said Suzanne Wolff, assistant director of planning and zoning for Pitkin County.  

Local wildlife ranger Kurtis Tesch said he’s in favor of any steps to keep bears away from humans. Tesch just started earlier this year, and he said he’s already had to kill four habituated bears.

Putting down bears “makes your gut sink,” Tesch said.  

There is no clear way to measure if the plant restrictions actually help deter bears, and the list of banned plants covers a lot of native vegetation.

Landscape architects at firms like Design Workshop and Bluegreen Aspen try to use only regional, native plants that work well in this climate and at high altitude. They said they have long avoided plants like serviceberries and choke cherries that are common bear food.  

But others on this banned list — like red dogwood and wild roses — are less appealing to bears and have been a standard on landscape plans.

“There’s a really limited plant palette you can use at any given site,” said William Stratton, who works at Bluegreen.  

Despite these challenges, local planners have been able to work around the restrictions, according to Tami Kochen, zoning officer with Pitkin County.

“There’s always been different species that they come forward with that are more appropriate,” Kochen said. “But we do realize it is limiting, and it’s finding that balance and that line. Cause when everyone’s planting the same willows, the same pine trees, it is a concern of diversity.”

The county also requires that new homes have round doorknobs on exterior doors, since bears can’t grip those, and has expectations about how to hang bird-feeders and fence gardens.