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Bear law being ignored

Sarah S. Chung

Bear season is here and so far, Aspen’s new wildlife ordinance has not stopped a few bruins from resuming their seasonal forage into human homes for a snack.

“Right now the situation is better than this time last year, but there have already been a few in people’s houses,” said Rick Magnuson, Aspen community safety officer. The police department has already responded to four such calls.

In May, the City Council adopted a set of wildlife regulations aimed at curbing the practices that have lured bears into town for easy meals in the past. The new ordinance forbids outdoor trash containers that aren’t wildlife resistant, outlaws bear-accessible bird feeders, and directs residents to put out trash only on the day of pickup.

According to Magnuson, Mother Nature has helped reduce bear problems this year, but people haven’t, despite the new restrictions.

“There’s very little compliance right now. We’re giving people a 60-day grace period before we start enforcing, but it seems like a lot of people are still unaware [of the ordinance,]” Magnuson said.

The police department will mail out educational fliers, but if people continue to ignore the new regulations, they may face the consequences. Violations of the new ordinance carry a $50 fine for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and a mandatory court appearance for a third violation.

Meanwhile, however, nature is giving locals some extra time to change their trash habits.

“Last year, there was more snow and it was harder for bears to find food in the backcountry. This year’s mild winter makes it easier for bears to forage in their own habitat,” Magnuson said.

It may take time for people to adjust to the new rules, but a local wildlife official has no doubt that compliance will keep bears out of human neighborhoods.

“I’m absolutely convinced that [the new ordinance] will have the desired effect,” said Randy Cote, Division of Wildlife regional manager. “It may take some time for bears to realize that the food source is gone, but in the meantime, new bears won’t pick up the bad habits.”


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