Reform for dumpster-diving bears

 

COLORADO

In Pitkin County, Colo., trash is now safe from prying paws.

Last month, a "bear ordinance" went into effect in all the county’s rural areas. The law, which had been in the works for more than two years, says that every trash can that hits the curb in unincorporated Pitkin County must be "wildlife-proof." Violators could face a $1,000 fine.

The county’s definition of wildlife includes black bears, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, cats and dogs. But the most infamous trashcan tippers are black bears. Each year, Division of Wildlife officials tag bears notorious for dumpster diving. Repeat offenders may be euthanized.

Kevin Wright, Aspen district ranger for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the tight regulations should greatly decrease how much garbage a bear can expect to get its paws on.

"We really like the part of this ordinance that says that if a bear-proofing method fails, it needs to be fixed or replaced immediately," he said. "Broken cans will only keep the bears in the area."

Trash collection agencies will be responsible for bear-proofing commercial containers, but Tom Hockins from VIP Trash Removal in Glenwood Springs worries that he won’t be able to monitor and repair every dumpster on his largely rural route.

"These people come in from California and they’re gone tomorrow — they don’t care," he says. "I can’t fix all of these lids just because some nerd pried it open to dump their trash in."

But Henry Fox, general manager for Browning Ferris Industries Waste Systems, says his company aims to bear-proof all its 700 commercial containers in Pitkin County.

The Pitkin County cities of Aspen and Snowmass have had bear-proofing laws for several years, and Redstone resident Ron Sorter says it shouldn’t be tough to get the word out to the rest of the county.

"In a small village like ours, it’s easier because everybody knows everybody," he says. "Everyone who lives up in the mountains should know that the best thing for bears to do is to stay where it is safer for them."

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Naomi Havlen