Pitkin County may give teeth to bear ordinance
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A bear in the garbage could cost homeowners from $350 to $1,000 if Pitkin County commissioners approve an emergency ordinance next week.
At a county work session Tuesday, staff presented a draft of a new wildlife ordinance that would allow law enforcement officials to issue a ticket for a petty offense and court summons to any homeowner who does not comply with county standards for bearproof containers and enclosures.
Commissioners made minor suggestions to the ordinance and will vote on the issue Aug. 22.
The current wildlife rule is complaint-driven, but the new ordinance would allow animal safety officers and law enforcement officials to tag noncompliant trash bins and hand out a first offense fine of $350, the cost of a new bearproof Dumpster, according to county officials.
“If you’ll buy the container within the next 10 days [after getting a fine], we’ll tear the ticket up,” said solid waste manager Chris Hoofnagel.
A second offense would cost $500, and a third offense would be $1,000, the maximum allowable in the state, according to the ordinance.
Fines would fund wildlife protection education and provide assistance for Pitkin County residents who earn less than $20,000 per year and cannot afford costly bearproof receptacles.
Hoofnagel said the tougher restrictions are not designed to punish but rather to encourage residents to stop the cycle of habituating bears to garbage.
“We’d like to encourage you to adopt this ordinance,” said Perry Will, area wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “As you know, this year we have a tremendous issue.”
Will said wildlife officials have gotten “pretty aggressive” handing bears, and while he congratulated the many people who have made an effort to protect their trash, he stressed that it only takes one offender for a bear to get used to human food.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said.
ReRe Baker, Pitkin County’s animal control officer, said she is tired of handing out warnings that don’t seem to get the message across.
Bearproof trash bins are on back order this year, Baker said, but she would be willing to help homeowners willing to work toward full compliance.
Baker said the animals would die during winter hibernation if they can’t find their natural foods and can’t access human food.
“That’s Mother Nature’s way of culling itself,” Baker said.
Waste haulers in Pitkin County would have to provide all customers who request them with certified containers that are “impervious” to wildlife, according to the proposed ordinance.
Dumpsters cannot have drain holes larger than an inch in diameter, and must be latched to prevent animals from getting in. Lids must be steel, thick enough to withstand the weight of a bear, and there can be no more than a quarter-inch of free play when the Dumpster is closed and secured.
Also, areas around garbage containers must be kept clean and free of garbage, and if containers are damaged and open to wildlife, owners must make repairs within 48 hours.
Residents with curbside pickup must wait until 6 a.m. on garbage day to take their trash out.
If there is an ongoing problem with bears at a particular site, the proposed ordinance would empower county officials to force homeowners associations to change the way they store garbage.
Commissioners took issue with one clause in the code stating that residents of trailer parks and developments “should” consolidate their garbage in centralized Dumpsters. Some suggested stronger language, but board members gave their general approval.
Commissioners also suggested the Pitkin County landfill, where as many as five bears dine nightly, should be held to the same standards.
“If we have to be looked at as tough guys … then so be it,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.
Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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