Aspen’s trashy ways in the downtown core are killing bears |

Aspen’s trashy ways in the downtown core are killing bears

On any given morning in downtown Aspen there are at least two garbage cans that have been ransacked by bears, and more often than not, it’s several of them.

In a months-long audit, The Aspen Times has found that local businesses are continually violating the city’s aggressive trash ordinance, which requires that bear-resistant containers and compost cans be locked at all times of the day.

Patrols between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. in Aspen’s commercial core in recent weeks show that many of them are not only unlocked but food has been placed on top of them, even next to stickers that read “Trash kills bears.”

Remnants of the previous day’s food waste from restaurants — along with bear scat — line the alleys of Aspen in the early-morning hours, leaving it for trash haulers and property managers to pick up.

However, the city continues to issue a much higher percentage of warnings than citations as it continues to educate the business owners who are in violation.

“It’s frustrating that we are having the conversation over and over, year after year,” Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said.

Be warned before facing fines

Dozens of violations have been witnessed this spring and summer, but as of June 28 only three citations had been issued by the Aspen Police Department.

The number of tickets issued in the past five years pale in comparison to the number of warnings that have been issued.

Since 2015, the APD has issued 38 tickets to those who have violated the solid waste ordinance as it relates to bears and trash; warnings climb into the hundreds.

Linda Consuegra, assistant police chief, said the department focuses on education and building working relationships with businesses before punitive measures are taken.

“You have to look at the whole picture and listen to them,” she said, adding businesses face challenges such as employee turnover and a lack of control over their dumpsters in the alley. “If it’s excuse after excuse, then, yes, we will give them a ticket.”

Once a bear is habitualized to food through garbage, the less likely they are going to look for a natural food source, according to wildlife officials.

“You are right smack dab in bear country and if they smell it and know it is there they will keep coming back,” said Mike Porras, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region, which includes Aspen and Pitkin County. “These bears are looking for an easy meal and they know where to go.”

And for the most part, it’s the alleys of downtown Aspen.

Food attractants lead to increased bear-human conflicts, often resulting in bruins being put down.

In 2017, when it was a poor natural food year and the bear-human conflict was at its peak, 16 bruins in Pitkin County were euthanized and four were relocated, including a mother and two cubs that took up residence in a tree on Aspen’s pedestrian mall in September.

CPW Officer Matt Yamashita said the last thing they want to do is euthanize a bear, but it’s up to the community to ensure it doesn’t happen.

“It seems that societal norms have shifted, and it’s acceptable that we are allowing human attractants,” he said. “We are experiencing a paradigm shift that it’s natural for bears to have human food and it’s not natural, and that’s what we are fighting against.”

Porras noted that at least every night in Pitkin County there is a bear in a home, or attempting to get into one.

During the busiest time of the year, there can be as many as 20 calls coming into the 911 dispatch center, he said, adding that CPW officers have estimated that for every call, there are at least two or three that go unreported.

“So, that may actually be up to 60 bear conflicts in one night,” Porras said.

Lock it up, business and governments

The APD’s community response officers meet with all of the businesses in Aspen at the beginning of the season to educate them on the laws and discuss best practices for securing trash.

If they slip up, often they’ll get a talking to, or a formal warning.

“It’s frustrating because my officers are taking so much time and investing in education,” said Ginna Gordon, supervisor of the APD’s community response officers (CROs). “We are still working on community buy-in … we are on the right track in some areas but we have work to do.”

Several businesses in the downtown core routinely do not secure trash but escape scrutiny because their knocked-over or broken-into dumpster has been cleaned up before community response officers are on patrol.

Gordon said they are patrolling earlier now to get a better handle on the offenders.

But as Consuegra pointed out, APD and CRO officers can’t be everywhere all the time.

“There’s only so much we can do as an agency,” she said, adding APD officers on the graveyard shift will take photos of turned over dumpsters and send them to the CROs. “We need buy-in from the community.”

Gordon said those who have trash in dumpsters in enclosures or are locked up rarely have issues.

“I’m a fan of self-locking mechanisms because it eliminates human error,” she said.

For years, both the city and county have been guilty of violating the ordinance, with bear break-ins at the Rio Grande Recycling Center and at the service entrance at the Pitkin County Library.

Officials from both governments have taken measures to secure the trash in their respective locations.

After several years of bears breaking into the library’s metal trash containers and recyclable bins secured by carabineers, they were replaced with 3-yard dumpsters that are under lock and key.

Mike Fleagle, the county’s facilities operations manager, said people were poaching the cans and dumping their own garbage, or new cleaning crews did not understand the rules.

“Our team is working diligently to have everything secure,” he said.

Liz O’Connell Chapman, the city’s environmental health specialist, said the city switched to bear-resistant, self-latching containers.

“I get complaints on how hard they are to open,” she said. “If people are abiding by the rules, there’s nothing for them there.”

Being ‘Bear Aware’

The penalties for violating the trash ordinance, which was increased last year by Aspen City Council, are $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $999 for the third, along with a summons in municipal court.

“(Tickets) are one of the tools we have,” Consuegra said. “It’s more about the time we are spending with people that makes the impact.”

The APD spends between $5,000 and $6,500 a year on education efforts, including its “Bear Aware” campaign. That campaign is targeted more toward tourists, so they are aware of the solid waste and wildlife harassing ordinances.

Consuegra said problems arise when dumpsters and containers aren’t locked, allowing unauthorized individuals to dump their trash.

It happens frequently downtown and in apartment complexes, she noted.

Kim Keilin, who manages the Centennial rental complex, knows that predicament all too well.

Centennial received all three citations that were issued last year, which landed her in front of municipal court judge Brooke Peterson. She paid $1,749 in fines.

“We are trying to educate 450 people … it’s difficult training this many people,” she said, adding that she’s been leaving notes on the dumpster clips warning people that they will receive fines if they don’t lock it back up. “If I have to go in front of Brooke, they are going with me.”

Keilin has been giving out $250 fines, too. She said she’s also emphasizing more education among tenants, especially new ones.

“Last year was a real learning experience and tenants are all on board with it now,” she said.

Gordon said while there’s still work to do in the downtown core, the residential areas have gotten much better compared to a decade or two ago.

“We have made huge strides,” she said. “If you go through the West End, it’s pretty locked up.”

She added that if business and restaurant owners could have the same mentality that most city residents have subscribed to, Aspen’s bears would be less vulnerable.

“If we were all invested in this, everyone’s job would be easier,” Gordon said. “It would be safer for the community and for the bears.”

Bears by the numbers

The following are statistics related to bear activity in Aspen and in the region.


Number of citations issued for unsecured trash:

2015 — 10

2016 — 13

2017 — 9

2018 — 3

2019 — 3

Calls for bears in the trash:

2015 — 33

2016 — 27

2017 — 46

2018 — 37

2019 — 15

Bear calls: (Inclusive of bear trash, bear education, bears being bears, bear home/vehicle intrusion and general bear questions)

2015 — 303

2016 — 219

2017 — 615 (poor natural food year)

2018 — 169

2019 to date — 78

* Source: Aspen Police Department


Number of citations issued for unsecured trash:

2015 — 56

2016 — 58

2017 — 97

2018 — 29

2019 to June 26 — 9

Bear calls:

2105 — 86 (66 trash calls, 18 sightings, 2 acting aggressively)

2016 — 151 (76 trash calls, 70 sightings, four intrusions and one acting aggressively)

2017 — 177 (125 trash calls, 49 sightings, three intrusions)

2018 — 81 (41 trash calls, 36 sightings, two intrusions and two acting aggressively)

2019 — 25 (12 trash calls, 12 sightings and one acting aggressively)

* Source: Glenwood Springs Police Department


Number of citations issued for unsecured trash:

2015 — 3

2016 — 2

2017 — 0

2018 — 3

2019 — 7


2015 — 141

2016 — 115

2017 — 253

2018 — 211

2019 — 377

Bear calls:

2015 — 17

2016 — 60

2017 — 32

2018 — 49

2019 — 28

* Source: Town of Vail


Calls for service and warnings for wildlife protection:

2015 — 5

2016 — 37

2017 — 6

2018 — 9

2019 through June 15 — 3

Summons/citation for wildlife protection order:

2015 — 5

2016 — 0

2017 — 0

2018 — 0

2019 through May 31 — 0

Calls for service for bears:

2015 — 26

2016 — 64

2017 — 37

2018 — 49

2019 through June 15 — 6

* Source: Avon Police Department

The number of bears euthanized by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Pitkin County:

2015- 5 euthanized/1 relocated

2016- 9 euthanized/1 relocated

2017- 16 euthanized/4 relocated

2018- 1 euthanized/1 relocated

2019- 1 euthanized/1 relocated

* Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife