Bear Invasion! Aspen Sees Tenfold Increase in Bear Sightings

Bears invade Aspen, Colo., and residents encouraged to fight back.

Sept. 26, 2009— -- Famously dubbed the Rodeo Drive of the Rockies, Aspen, Colo., is home to gourmet restaurants, fine jewelry stores, luxury hotels and, for a few months in the summer, bears.

"Bears are emblematic of the Aspen community," said Aspen resident Mark Goodman. "They are wild, beautiful, fabulous creatures that are awesome, yet you keep your distance ... the beauty and the fear is what makes it so fascinating."

Fascinating, but this year, it's a dangerous problem. Aspen police report a nearly tenfold increase in the number of bear sightings in town. Wildlife experts think that a moist spring caused a berry shortage, forcing hungry bears to wander into town in search of food.

"Once a bear gets into a human environment they quickly realize the fried chicken you or I had for dinner last night and may have put in the trash can is highly caloric," said Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton.

Bears need nearly 20,000 calories a day to bulk up before hibernating and feed for 20 hours a day to get it.

Officials are now concerned that across Colorado too many wild bears have developed a tasted for human food and are getting used to people. They are now actively telling residents to be, literally, mean to the bears. Yell at them, throw rocks and if they charge you, stand up to them.

"You want to be as big, as large as possible, and you always want to fight back with a black bear," said Hampton. Black bears tend to be timid and are generally not aggressive.

"When they are utilizing our environment as their habitat in that manner, they are also very likely to defend that territory, " said Hampton. "And so it can be a dangerous situation when bears get to the point where they are breaking into homes to get food."

In Aspen, three people this summer have been attacked in their own homes, including Maureen Hirsch. A bear came into her house through locked French doors.

Bears Invade Aspen Homes

An unwanted bear invasion was stalled by a barking dog.

"All of a sudden, the dog started barking frantically," said Hirsch. "The next thing I know, this head of a bear appears and it was almost mythological. It was coming out of the darkness and emerged. I'm screaming like crazy.

But the thing that went through my head was I have no idea how this bear got in the house and all I know is that I need to get him out. As I turned, all of a sudden the bear pushed me and then I felt the claws on my back," Hirsch said. "I just kept screaming and moving forward. I flung open the door, and I quickly ran up the stairs"

Hirsch managed to escape but was scratched by the bear.

"There were many opportunities for other food or to destroy the kitchen and he didn't," Hirsch said. " But it was kind of unusual that a bear would stay in the house after encountering a human. That behavior was most unusual."

Days later, Colorado Division of Wildlife officers killed the bear that attacked Hirsch, bringing to 11 the number of bears put down in Aspen this summer.