Keeping People and Bears Safe: The First Town Hall

Living in Colorado, we can all agree that we want to have safe interactions between bears and people. Residents who leave their trash out, or take other actions that have the consequence of attracting bears to neighborhoods, are contributing to the problem. When bears have specific interactions with people, the bears are euthanized. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reports that in 2017, thirty bears were euthanized due to human/bear conflict. In 2018, fifteen bear cubs were orphaned due to euthanasia of adult bears. No one wants this to happen.

A couple of years ago, the Smart Bear Task Force was organized to come up with solutions to the interactions between bears and area residents. Task Force member Michael Lowery wrote this guest blog to describe what they accomplished.

On August 22, City Councilman Don Knight led a town hall regarding a proposed ordinance that would impact Colorado Springs businesses and residents who live West of I-25. Approximately 45 area residents were in attendance at the town hall. The City hopes a new waste disposal ordinance would dissuade bears from getting into garbage cans. If you missed the town hall, watch it here. It’s about an hour long. One attendee at the town hall introduced herself as a member of the Bear Smart Task Force.

Folks in this Bear Management Area —essentially everything West of I25 in Colorado Springs—would not be able to put garbage cans out until 5 a.m. on the garbage pickup day, and the cans would need to be put away by 7 p.m. that same day.

Residents’ top concern at the town hall was the expense of having to buy a bear-proof trashcan. Councilman Knight explained that new bear-proof trashcans would not be necessary for the residents who store their garbage cans inside their garages on non-pickup days. If garbage is stored outside of a garage on non-garbage pickup days, a bear-proof trashcan would be necessary, or the garbage would need to be stored within a fenced, secured area that is bear-proof. For those residents without garages, this would cause them to incur potentially significant expenses.

Code Enforcement reports that the new ordinance would be a top priority for them. If someone reports a neighbor for violation of the ordinance, code enforcement said they would patrol that area at all hours, and would issue a one-time warning for initial violations. Further violations would progress from $100 for the first offense; $250 for the second offense; and $500 for the third offense. Ouch.

The plan is for the ordinance to go into effect on March 1, 2020, although it is not yet on the posted City Council agenda. Colorado Parks and Wildlife said they have tried educating the public about preventing bears’ access to garbage, but they say those efforts haven’t worked. Their goal is to keep the bears from relying on garbage for a food source. They believe the new ordinance would reduce the human/bear conflict by 50%. Also, limiting a bear’s access to a year-round food source will allow the animals to go into hibernation, as is normal for them. Again, we can all agree on this goal. The question is whether this proposed ordinance is necessary.

If passed, this ordinance would force the City’s 5 waste disposal companies to comply with handling bear-proof garbage cans that some citizens would use. One attendee reported that in the past she had contacted her disposal company, and that they refused to dispose of waste contained in bear-proof cans. She had wanted one of the special cans, but could not get one due to their inability to collect the trash from the new can. Councilman Knight reported there is equipment that will make access to the bear-proof cans very easy for the waste-disposal companies. Residents would need to coordinate with their waste disposal company if they are going to use one of these special trashcans.

Initially, this ordinance seemed way over the top to us —it might have even had us growling! Upon hearing from Councilman Knight and the other citizens, it is clear we have problems with the people/bear interface. We agree that it is sensible to limit confrontation between humans and bears. The fines for violations sound far too steep, though, and we have our doubts that Code Enforcement will be as strict as they say.

There will be another meeting about the topic on Thursday, August 29thfrom 6-7:30 at Westside Community Center, 1628 W Bijou. Show up and have your voices heard!

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