Basalt brewin’ up ordinance to lessen bear/human encounters
Basalt is bearing down on legislation designed to reduce last year’s unparalleled number of encounters between humans and bruins.
If successful, hungry bears waking from winter slumber won’t be able to wander into town and freeload meals this spring. Their food supply will be cut off.
A committee of town officials and outside wildlife experts are drafting an ordinance that would require businesses and residents to better manage their garbage. Public hearings will be held later this winter by the Town Council.
“It was pretty obvious this fall that there were conflicts between humans and bears,” said Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt. “We don’t want humans to get hurt. We don’t want bears to get killed.”
One bear was shot and killed when it and its two cubs allegedly threatened a family living in a cabin east of town on the south side of Basalt Mountain.
Basalt police officer Chad Barsness said the department answered 35 bear calls within town limits last summer – 29 in August alone. No bears were killed for unruly behavior, although an officer fired a bean bag from a shotgun at a bruin that invaded a garage.
In Aspen, police responded to 560 bear calls last year. The calls consumed 300-plus hours of officers’ time, according to statistics supplied to Barsness.
Despite the relatively low number of reported incidents in Basalt, that many bear encounters was still exceptionally high, according to old-timers. Wildlife officers said bears were more likely to invade towns looking for food because a dry winter and spring frost combined to knock out bears’ natural food supply.
How the hungry bears will react this spring when they wake from hibernation is anybody’s guess, said Colorado Division of Wildlife officer Kelly Wood, who is helping the Basalt committee with the bear ordinance.
Because bear encounters were so unusual in Basalt, residents responded well to suggestions to avoid attracting wildlife, Barsness said. “Last year we spent a number of hours on phone calls making people aware of steps they could take.”
Adding rules for commercial dumpsters could further lessen the attraction for bears, the officer said.
The proposed ordinance would require residents to set their trash cans out the day the garbage is picked up. They would be prohibited from setting it out the night before.
Businesses would be forced to use bear-proof garbage bins. But town officials want to place the onus of providing bear-proof containers on the trash haulers, Whitsitt said.
Business operators will have the responsibility to make sure the containers remain in operable condition and that trash isn’t heaped outside the containers.
The town plans to set a good example by providing bear-proof trash cans in parks and public places.
Violators of the ordinance will get a verbal scolding for their first offense in a year, according to the proposal. They would be fined for a second offense, then fined and ordered to court for a third offense within one year.
“This thing is going to be education-driven, not enforcement-driven,” said Whitsitt. Repeat offenders, however, would face a fine large enough “that it’s really going to hurt.”
Whitsitt believes it would be effective to plaster public trash cans with stickers that explain the problem to people. One popular sticker says, “This is your bear,” with a corresponding picture of a bear lumbering on all four legs. Next it says, “This is your bear on trash” and the picture shows a bear lying on its back with legs up in the air, obviously shot dead.
“I don’t think most people want to see that happen,” said Whitsitt.
The DOW’s motto in efforts to educate people on bears is: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Wood said she believes Basalt’s ordinance could do all sorts of wildlife a favor. Trash unfortunately attracts skunks and raccoons as well as bears, she said.
Snowmass Village had one of the first ordinances in the state on bear-proof garbage containers, according to Wood. Aspen adopted similar legislation.
No hearings will be set on Basalt’s ordinance until the committee finishes preparation of the draft.
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