Students’ concerns prompt city to consider bear ordinance |

Students’ concerns prompt city to consider bear ordinance

The city of Glenwood Springs plans to explore ways to reduce a case of animal attraction, after prompting by schoolchildren, a Division of Wildlife officer and a bear problem that’s only expected to get worse.

City Council last week directed city staff to look into proposing a plan of action that might be implemented by spring, when local bears come out of hibernation and some will start returning to town. Council discussed the issue at the request of fourth-graders from Glenwood Springs Elementary School. They have developed a series of suggestions for dealing with the problem, from requiring bear-proof trash cans to mandating that trash not be put out until the day of pickup.

Isaac Carlson, one of the students, told council residents also should be urged not to call the Division of Wildlife about a bear in the neighborhood unless it is causing damage or they are sure they don’t have anything outside that would attract the animal.

Sonia Marzec, district wildlife manager for the DOW in Glenwood Springs, has been working with the schoolchildren on their bear project. She explained to council that when the DOW tags and relocates a bear, it generally comes back, and has to be destroyed under the agency’s two-strike policy for dealing with problem bears.

“That’s why it is our last resort, because we don’t want to kill that bear,” she said.

Also, when a bear is moved, it only creates an opening for another one to take its place, Marzec said.

Some other communities, including in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, have adopted ordinances for dealing with bears, including requiring bear-proof trash cans. Historically, however, Glenwood Springs police, DOW officers and residents have dealt with the animals in a more low-key manner. However, problems with bears have been on the upswing. Last year, police responded to about 150 bear-related calls. The DOW relocated a bear and her cub after complaints from a resident and reports of an attack on a dog.

The numerous bear calls also keep Marzec busy in Glenwood Springs, even as she tries to oversee a district stretching from Dotsero to Canyon Creek. She said the city’s bear problem will only escalate unless it makes long-term changes, such as requiring bear-proof trash containers. But trash isn’t the only problem. Bird feeders and other attractants also bring bears to town, Marzec said.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done, and the public needs to help us protect the community from the bears,” she said. “The ordinance is only going to be as strong as the buy-in from the community.”

Marzec said she understands council must consider cost when talking about requiring bear-proof trash containers.

Council member Chris McGovern said she has bought two bear-proof trash containers, $200 each, and worries about the expense for residents. She said it may be best to start suggesting purchase of the containers for those having problems, rather than forcing everyone to buy them.

Council member Larry Beckwith drew laughs when he said of bears, “I have them hanging around all the time and they don’t bother anybody. But I knock before I go out the door.”

He wondered if approaches such as firing bean bags at the bears might help repel them. Marzec said the DOW and police do that now, but it can be hard to drive a bear all the way across town.

Council member Dave Merritt worried that the city might get into a situation in which people fear being fined for calling police about bears, and don’t call when a serious danger exists. Marzec said in some other communities repeat offenders who don’t remove bear attractants receive warnings first rather than fines ” and from the DOW rather than police.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has determined it would cost about $38,000 to replace the city’s 74 trash containers with bear-proof ones. Council member Dan Richardson suggested that the city start by replacing worn-out trash containers with bear-proof containers, setting a five-year limit to get all of them replaced. Merritt said he thinks they need to be replaced even sooner than five years.

Council member Bruce Christensen said he thinks the city can’t wait to act on a plan to deal with the bear problem.

“Each year that goes by we’re just training more bears to come into town. And the time has come that we’re going to have to do something,” he said.

As part of its planning, the city will make use of a survey students at Glenwood and Sopris elementary schools are sending home to parents.

Glenwood Elementary fourth-grader Erica Arensman, who spoke to council, is happy about council’s reaction to the students’ campaign. She had thought council would only promise to consider a bear ordinance.

“But I think now it actually will happen,” she said.

She also wants the city to promote bear awareness.

“Some people, they just don’t care,” she said, citing those who go up to the animals with flash cameras. “I think that’s positively, absolutely ridiculous because it might make bears more angry. I think people should be more bear-aware.”

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