Aspen puts some teeth into bear laws
Aspen’s resident bear population may wake up this spring to discover some of its favorite dining establishments have closed.
The slumbering bruins who raised havoc in town last year with their nightly foraging in unsecured garbage containers will find the delectable trash locked up tight this year, if city environmental ranger Bryan Flynn has anything to say about it.
And he does.
Flynn and the city attorney’s office have significantly beefed up Aspen’s Wildlife Protection Ordinance, which requires receptacles that contain edible garbage to be bear-proof. A combination of noncompliance and loopholes in the law, though, turned a number of trash cans and dumpsters around Aspen into bear feeding stations last summer and fall.
Local police responded to an unprecedented number of bear calls as the dry summer depleted the animals’ natural food sources and drove them into town to forage for trash with greater frequency than usual.
The amended ordinance, which received City Council approval on first reading this week, contains some significant new clauses, Flynn said.
“It’s really to make the ordinance work the way we intended it to work,” he said.
First, trash haulers that supply their customers with garbage containers will be required by the ordinance to make them bear-proof. And a whole new section in the ordinance provides specific design criteria for trash cans, dumpsters and trash enclosures.
“Now we have some pictures, dimensions of vent gaps – everything to give people very clear direction on what we’re looking for,” Flynn said.
Flynn said he’ll send the standards for trash containers to garbage haulers, but he is already encouraged by action the companies have been taking of late. BFI has been changing over its dumpsters and Flynn said he has spotted Waste Management trucks in town with bear-proof trash cans on the back.
“It sounds stupid, but to me, that’s exciting,” he said. “I’m probably the only one who gets excited about a plastic shell.”
Deleted from the updated ordinance is a provision that exempted residential trash cans from the bear-proofing requirements if they were emptied daily. That wasn’t sufficient to discourage the animals, he said.
Plus, businesses used the loophole to continue using unsecured containers. The dumpsters behind Clark’s Market, though they’re emptied twice a day, seven days a week, were a regular stop for hungry bears, police noted last year.
In addition, the ordinance will go into effect year-round. As originally adopted in 1999, the law only applied from April 15 to Nov. 15. While bears hibernate in the winter, other animals, like raccoons, can get into garbage all year long, Flynn explained.
The city is also pursuing increased fines for those who violate the ordinance. The attorney’s office has asked for municipal court permission to hike the fine for a first offense from $50 to $100 and, for a second offense, from $200 to $300. The mandatory court appearance for a third offense would remain in place.
With the ordinance in effect for the third summer this year, Flynn said he’ll be issuing tickets for offenses more readily than he has in the past. Several City Council members suggested last year that enforcement officers should be issuing fewer warnings and more tickets to violators.
In conjunction with the amended wildlife ordinance, the City Council approved a resolution Monday to purchase another 62 bear-proof trash cans for city streets for $46,310. With the additional containers, the city will be replacing the rest of its trash cans with bear-proof receptacles this year, Flynn said. Aspen began switching over the cans on city streets and in its parks last year.
A public hearing on the wildlife ordinance and final adoption by the council is scheduled for Feb. 12.
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