Aspen’s got a real bear of a problem. All puns aside, the Colorado city is getting a fair amount of trouble from their new, furry neighbors. According to the Aspen Times, the Aspen Police Department recently released their annual crime statistics report and bears headed the top of the list. A sleepy town that doesn’t see much crime, Aspen instead recorded an eye-popping 1,040 bear calls–compared to just 82 in 2008.

“The bears took up a huge amount of time and resources,” said Police Chief Richard Pryor. “At the same time, we felt we really had good cooperation from the community, and people did try to make a difference in their habits in terms of trash and using the right containers.”

The Aspen Police Department certainly deserves a pat on the back. Any location where bear encounters vastly outnumber crime is definitely a safe place, at least from criminals. But where have all the bears come from?

Apparently a spring drought and the resulting lack of food drove the animals from their native habitat into Aspen. It’s not unusual now to see bears roaming the streets of the city at night scrounging for food. Occasionally, a bear would brave the crowds at outdoor malls or parks and present a threat to visitors. Actual attacks are rare and the bears seem to have a healthy fear of humans. Police officers chase off the large animals when found, but it can be frustrating when the bear gets in a playful mood and climbs a tree.

“It was a handful to manage all the bears,” Pryor said. “But we live within a riparian habitat, and this is where they like to live, so we have to keep continuing to work on improving that dynamic for the bears and for us.”

Authorities are telling residents to properly dispose of trash, not to purposely feed the bears, and to give the animals a wide berth when encountered. Surprisingly, Aspen police have also seen an overall decline in crime coinciding with the bear increase.

Perhaps the bears have formed a neighborhood watch.

Image from peupleloup on the flickr Creative Commons

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