Garfield County again considers bear ordinance |

Garfield County again considers bear ordinance

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

As Garfield County enters the part of the year when bear-human encounters typically rise in frequency and severity, some are saying it is time to enact a law requiring homeowners to use bear-proof trash containers.

Perry Will, wildlife manager in this area for the Colorado Department of Wildlife, said on Tuesday that he hopes to be talking with the Garfield County commissioners “within the next couple of weeks” about the matter.

And Frosty Merriott, chairman of the Roaring Fork Chapter of the Sierra Club Wildlife Committee, agreed that a meeting is needed to urge the commissioners to act, particularly in light of the fact the issue was raised once before and shot down by the commissioners.

“The Sierra Club’s all for it,” Merriott said on Tuesday, adding that he has been talking with officials around the area and “we really have some good momentum there. We are planning to get something done.”

Such regulations have been sought in numerous parts of Colorado, where bears have learned to seek food in the overflowing Dumpsters of towns and rural subdivisions. Pitkin and Eagle counties have such laws, as does the city of Glenwood Springs.

But areas immediately surrounding Glenwood Springs, in the county’s jurisdiction, are the focus of talk about bear-proof trash containers.

The hungry bears have increasingly come into contact with people and have become a growing problem for the DOW, which is forced to either relocate or kill what are known as “problem” bears, or bears that have become “habituated” to humans and have come to prefer human garbage to their natural food sources.

The conflicts escalate as summer blends into fall and the bears feel the need to fatten up before their annual winter hibernation.

In 2007, an employee of the DOW asked the commissioners to enact an ordinance requiring bear-proof trash containers, but the commissioners declined.

Among the reasons cited for the commissioners’ decision was the fact that in large parts of the county there are no problems with bears. The commissioners also have noted that compliance with such ordinances can be an expensive proposition, and have been reluctant to saddle rural residents with the requirements.

Will, who said the number of bear-human encounters has been rising in the Glenwood Springs area, said he understands some of the commissioners’ reasoning.

“It’s not a countywide thing, but there’s some delineated areas where we think the bear conflicts would be helped if they adopted an ordinance,” he said. In 2007, it was noted that Eagle County had recently passed an ordinance that called for bear-proof containers only in selected parts of the county, according to published reports at the time.

Those “delineated areas,” Will said, are No Name, West Glenwood and parts of the Three-Mile Canyon area.

“We’re asking for help,” Will continued, adding that the rising frequency of encounters has led the DOW to begin setting traps in the area, particularly as fruit trees ripen in backyards and attract the attention of ravenous bears.

One stumbling block for any bear-proof ordinance, mentioned in news stories about past proposals, has been Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario’s concern that his deputies would be hard pressed to do their regular jobs and handle bear-related calls at the same time.

Will said the regulation can be written so that any law enforcement officer, whether from the DOW, the Glenwood Springs Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office, can respond and write tickets for violations, so the entire burden would not fall on the deputies.

Neither Vallario nor the department’s public information officer, Tanny McGinnis, could be reached by press time for comment for this story.

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