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Bears get bold in tony Colo. neighborhoods

A bear forages for food in a tree in Aspen, Colo. Nine bears have been killed by wildlife officers in that region this summer. A bear forages for food in a tree in Aspen, Colo. Nine bears have been killed by wildlife officers in that region this summer. (David Zalubowski/ Associated Press)
By Colleen Slevin
Associated Press / September 13, 2009

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ASPEN, Colo. - It’s nearly 2 a.m. and authorities have found the suspect in a string of break-ins into multimillion-dollar homes. His nose led him right to their trap - a cage filled with barbecue-scented cantaloupe and peaches.

It’s a 550-pound black bear and it nearly fills the cage wildlife officers set for him in the driveway of one of the homes. The bear starts huffing - a warning to give it some space. Within a few hours the bear will be dead, because officers believe he has become too bold and too dangerous.

The bear is one of nine wildlife officers in Aspen and surrounding Pitkin County have killed this summer because some bears have become more aggressive in looking for food to prepare for hibernation. One recently broke into a home through locked French doors and clawed a woman. Last week, a bear bit or scratched a woman as she slept on her deck.

Aspen police responded to about 200 bear sightings and run-ins with people around town in August, up from 16 in August 2008, Chief Richard Pryor said.

A man was attacked by a large black bear in his Aspen home last week.

Randy Hampton, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman, said the man had gone to the first floor of his home to check on his three barking dogs when the bear struck him in the head.

Wildlife officials say plentiful rainfall this year has damaged some of the bears’ main natural food source - berries - sending them scavenging for food in this wealthy ski town. But bears are also finding that they don’t need to go foraging in the woods because they are becoming so adept at opening locked trash bins or prying open windows and raiding the fridge.

Though some bears seem to have lost their fear of humans, some residents think authorities are overreacting and don’t want to see them killed.

Nina Hawn Zale said the city isn’t doing enough to cite people who leave trash outside, and bears are paying the price.