Bear-proof is in the pudding
August 22, 2006
The town of Avon recently convened that region’s first-ever “Bear Summit.” Trash haulers, property managers and government leaders from the Eagle Valley met to discuss what has become a serious problem in several communities: the interaction between humans and bears.Residents there apparently like to feed the bears. They don’t want to be bothered with bear-proofing their garbage containers. And government officials there seem reluctant to impose the stiff penalties needed to get people to change their behavior.Residents in the upper Roaring Fork Valley have made great strides in reducing the bait that brings humans and bears into contact. Our garbage is generally secure from ursine intrusion, and most locals know not to put out food for the animals. The overall reduction of bear encounters has been good for both species. People don’t have to fear for their pets or children, and fewer bears risk their lives as they once did under the Division of Wildlife’s two-strikes policy. A bear that is caught twice by DOW officers with its paws in someone’s garbage or home is killed. As the saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear.Hopefully our Avon neighbors will avoid delay and look to the Roaring Fork Valley for working examples of how to cut down on the number of bear incidents.Snowmass Village offers perhaps the best example of what to do in this case. After years of dithering around with a weak law that did nothing to discourage people from feeding bears and leaving their garbage unprotected, the state Division of Wildlife was forced in the late 1990s to kill a sow and her two cubs in an embarrassing and unnecessary euthanasia.Fortunately, the community responded by passing an ordinance that requires bear-proof garbage containers and threatens stiff fines – up to $500 – for those who fail to comply. The town published the rules and advice on bear-proofing in both Spanish and English, and embarked on an aggressive campaign to educate residents, second-home owners and visitors.It worked. The number of bear incidents in Snowmass Village is nearly nil, even in summers when berries and acorns are in short supply in the high country. More than any other community in the valley, and perhaps the nation, Snowmass Village has successfully reduced its interaction with black bears. Avon, Vail and Eagle County would serve themselves well to adopt the Snowmass Village mode.