Basalt gets serious about keeping bears out of trash |

Basalt gets serious about keeping bears out of trash

Aspen's Bear Aware education program includes this graphic on the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall. State wildlife officials say education efforts have limited success and enforcement is a necessary evil.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The town of Basalt will immediately start issuing more warnings and tickets to people who don’t take steps to keep bears out of garbage and other food sources.

The police department has promoted “bear aware” educational campaigns in recent years as bear conflicts with humans have increased.

“It’s been minimally successful,” said Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott.

He asked the council at a recent meeting for guidance on a proposal to more vigorously enforce the wildlife protection ordinance that has been on the town’s books since 2000. He got the green light.

Knott said his officers will target repeat offenders — particularly those who don’t secure their trash in a bear-resistant container. A first incident will result in a warning. A second incident will earn the person a ticket. Knott said he has talked to the municipal judge and prosecutor and received agreement that a ticket could be dismissed if the party showed they purchased a container that complies with the ordinance.

Homeowners and business owners must have a bear-resistant trash container when it is stored outside or accessible to a bear. If a trash can is stored indoors, such as a garage, and it is put out the morning of pick-up by a waste hauler, it doesn’t have to be bear-resistant, Knott said.

Officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife expressed support for Basalt’s increased enforcement at the council meeting. The agency has found that education only reaches the people who are already practicing habits to keep bears out of food sources, said Basalt District Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita. The agency believes enforcement is the best tool.

“It’s a necessary evil of sorts,” Yamashita said.

He pointed to Glenwood Springs as proof. The city approved a wildlife ordinance this year and is strictly enforcing it. The action boosted awareness and compliance has increased, he said.

The consequences of conflicts are harsh for bears. Any bruin that enters a house is killed when captured, Yamashita said. Nuisance bears that get into trash get tagged for a first incident. They are killed for a second incident.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has issued more bear hunting licenses in recent years, but that does little to reduce the number of problem bears, according to Yamashita. The bears that get into garbage or other human sources of food tend to hang around populated areas where they cannot be shot. The ones that are hunted tend to be out in the forest, he said.

The wildlife agency also has few options for relocating “problem bears.” Nearly all of western Colorado has problems with bear-human conflicts, Yamashita said. Before a bear can be relocated from one district to another, wildlife officers must clear it with their colleagues in the receiving district. As problems have increased, officers are reluctant to receive problem bears in their districts, Yamashita said.

The council voted 6-0 to pass a resolution supporting increased enforcement of the wildlife protection ordinance. A copy of the ordinance, including what trash containers comply, can be found at the town’s website,

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