What to do about the Bear Problem on the West Side?

The Bear Smart Task Force was organized a couple years ago to come up with solutions to bear invasions on the west side. Representatives from our local governments, interested nonprofits, and volunteers looked at many possible solutions, talked with wildlife officers, looked at bear ordinances in regional cities, and reviewed statistics of bear-human interactions. I served on the Bear Smart Task Force for about ​six​ months​ in 2018 and created the Bear Aware banners you see in afflicted bear areas, then organized a volunteer group that places the signs and banners every weekend.

Bears have broken into a number of houses, some occupied, and incomprehensibly, some people are feeding the bears. There is nothing more heartbreaking for a wildlife officer than euthanizing a bear that is taking advantage of human trash, or moving a mom and her cubs more than a hundred miles, only to see them back in ten days. We are at a point at which we cannot continue doing nothing.

I drove around 80905 and 80906 on our main trash pick-up day, Wednesday, where I live with bears, putting warning stickers on errant cans. This action raised awareness, with neighbors being more responsible about placing their trash receptacles on the street as City Code 6.4.104 dictates—on trash collection day. Many other steps have been taken to educate the public. But public awareness has not proved enough.

Here is a close analogy: if you want to live in the forest, you will have to pay for extra insurance in case you are hit with a wildfire. If you want to live in a beautiful city, you will have to trim your trees and keep a nice lawn. If you want to live in the canyon, you will either have to pay $5 a month for a bear-proof trash can, purchase one, or put your garbage out at the appropriate time. It is an investment in making the west side a safe and more wildlife-aware place to live.

The Task Force studied the issue for two years, spent a lot of time and outside expertise drafting the proposed ordinance. The Colorado Springs Apartment Owners Association had a representative on the Task Force.  Local trash providers were consulted about their operational concerns lifting bear-resistant cans, their capabilities and potential costs rolling out a bear solution. A solution provided by trash haulers will raise their costs. It will cost the city extra time to enforce a new ordinance. We all wish there was a better option than a new ordinance, but in two years we have seen the number of bears and bear incidents increasing. Bears are multiplying thanks to the extra food content in the trash and training their young ones to tip over cans. To fix the problem, we have to constrain the trash.

The Task Force has proposed a new city ordinance to cope with the increased number of bears and bear invasions. Council members Richard Skorman and Don Knight will be holding town halls about a proposal similar to that in Manitou Springs, requiring residents west of I-25 to use bear-resistant trash containers and/or take their trash to the street no earlier than 5:00 a.m. and return the container no later than 7:00 p.m.  Similar ordinances are working in Manitou Springs and other Colorado communities; while I have a lifetime record opposing new regulations, this is one I support.

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