It’s high time for a fine at Aspen businesses that feed bears
It’s just after 8 a.m. on a Thursday in June and Aspen community response officer Alyse Katynski has issued two warnings to businesses that didn’t secure their trash, allowing a bear to feed on the previous day’s food scraps.
If Paradise Bakery doesn’t rinse out its recycling properly and Clark’s Oyster Bar doesn’t secure its compost container with a lock at all times during the day and night, they’ll be fined $250 for violating the city’s solid waste ordinance.
On her early-morning routine patrol, Katynski, who works for the Aspen Police Department, found Clark’s compost container knocked over in the alley with oyster and clam shells and fruit strewn about next to a pile of bear scat.
She pointed out the mess to Clark’s kitchen manager, who was surprised to see it and said it must have happened the night before while the staff was still working.
Katynski told him it didn’t matter, and the container needed to be locked at all times and the lock Clark’s had was insufficient anyway.
She explained how important it is to not give bears a human food source. She referenced a recent encounter with a hiker on the Hunter Creek Trail who was bitten by a bruin.
The animal, whose stomach was full of birdseed, was later found and killed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
It is the state agency’s policy to euthanize a bear if it has had a conflict with a human.
Katynski followed up with the general manager of Clark’s later that day, and because the restaurant had gotten missed on the APD’s preseason restaurant “Bear Aware” educational outreach, she issued them a warning.
She did the same at Paradise Bakery, whose recycling container had been knocked over and rummaged through by a bear, leaving a crushed and licked peanut butter container in the middle of the alley between Hyman and Cooper avenues.
Katynski talked to the staff behind the counter as they were busily waiting on the morning rush of customers. They told her their manager would be in a half-hour.
Katynski returned later and explained that recyclables left in an alley, in a container that can be accessed by wildlife, must be thoroughly rinsed and clear of debris. Paradise Bakery is reportedly looking into replacing their recycling container to one with a locking mechanism, which will prevent unauthorized people from using it.
Aspen Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra said recycling that is not rinsed is as much of an attractant as food waste.
“We ask people to take recycling out the day of pickup,” she said.
Recycling containers are not required to be secured like all trash and compost dumpsters are.
While the APD may issue far more warnings than tickets, at the end of the day, it’s about changing behavior.
“It’s a case-by-case basis,” Katynski said. “We want to be diligent to protect the bears and wildlife; they were here first.”
Katynski has issued three first offense citations so far this year. They’ve gone to Cache Cache for multiple instances of an unsecure compost container, and HOPS Culture and Shadow Mountain Lodge for unsecured trash.
HOPS general manager James Harvey said it was a mistake that will not happen again, and sent a message to the community via the owner of the restaurant, Alex Cesaria.
“We love the bears and we are happy to pay the fine and we will make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Harvey said.
The businesses got tickets because they had been previously contacted about the importance of not providing a food source for bears, or had repeatedly violated the city ordinance, Katynski said.
“We aren’t just talking to people anymore,” she said, adding stricter enforcement is coming with high season here. “The bears are asking for it, and the citizens are too.”
She and the rest of APD’s community response officers patrol the alleys all over town each morning to assess bear activity.
Oftentimes it’s difficult to identify what dumpster or recycling can belongs to what business, and if it was “poached” by someone else throwing their trash away.
“Our challenge is to get to the bottom of the investigation,” Katynski said.
But the emphasis remains to educate all restaurant staff that securing trash is part of their daily routines.
“The education is important because the employees change every season and the managers change every season,” Katynski said, adding that the APD has Spanish speaking officers to explain to restaurant staff as well.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Matt Yamashita, who handled the euthanization of the bear in the Hunter Creek incident, said Aspen is a difficult place to get community buy-in on the issue.
That’s partly because of the transient nature of the resort town and its affluence, he noted.
“They don’t see what happens later this year … they don’t see the trap and they don’t know the fate of the bear,” Yamashita said. “Businesses should be the ones to reach the tourists … they have a prime opportunity to set an example.”
Katynski said she has faith in the APD’s efforts and that local businesses will get their acts together.
“We hear CPW, we hear our citizens and we hear our bears,” she said. “We are in it to win it for everyone.”