ASPEN, Colo. (CBS4)– With an estimated 16,000 bears in Colorado, one of the state’s most celebrated towns sits in the heart of bear habitat.
“Aspen is probably the epicenter of Bear-human conflicts in the state,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Kevin Wright said.
Wright has responded to bear encounters in the Roaring Fork Valley for nearly two decades.
Wright said human-bear conflicts have been increasing over recent years as the town has expanded into surrounding wildlife areas.
There’s probably no one who has had more encounters than Tom Isaac, the Pitkin County Assessor.
“It came right into my bedroom,” said Isaac. “Into my bedroom and it was a large bear.”
Isaac described his encounter with a massive 500 pound bear nicknamed “Fat Albert.”
“The bear decided he was more interest in the refrigerator than he was with me,” said Isaac.
Officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife found “Fat Albert” asleep, with a full stomach, on Isaac’s property after they were called to investigate.
Isaac was paralyzed nearly 30 years ago. He has had no less than five bears inside his house in the past eight years.
“In order for me to get into the house I have an automatic button I have to hit with my elbow and they’ve learned how to open that door also,” Isaac said.
Now, he puts a two-by-four across the door to keep bears out.
“He doesn’t call me anymore. He doesn’t want the bears trapped or anything like that,” Wright said about Isaac.
“Aspen is set square in the middle of prime bear habitat. Then we build our homes up the hillside in mountain shrub zones. You’re placing yourself in conflict as soon as you build that home,” Wright said.
The National Forest wilderness around Aspen provides bears with abundant natural food, but when that food source dries up, the town offers unlimited possibilities. From trash, to the abundant crabapple trees, to the numerous houses that only need to leave a window open to have a bear break in.
Wright said he works with the Aspen Police Department to educate the public about the dangers that attract bears. Police in Aspen have a dedicated officer in the summer months who concentrates on bear encounters, and writing tickets to residents who don’t properly secure their trash.
“This is the first year I’ve had a bear out on March 5. Earliest I’ve had a bear conflict,” Wright said. “We have several bears that have already gotten in to trash. That just teaches them to keep coming back.”
This year the city is pushing hard to educate second homeowners and visitors, because the wild weather this spring could mean another dangerous year like 2009.
“Right now, we’re looking at flowering earlier than normal, drier than average right now, potential of drought and right now it’s setting up as a rough year,” Wright said.
– Written by Jeff Todd for CBSDenver.com