Bruin fines could leave wallet bare |

Bruin fines could leave wallet bare

Charles Agar
Aspen, CO Colorado
A welcome mat of nails sits on the deck of a Snowmass Village, Colo. home on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007, where homeowners have taken an aggressive stance to deter bears from breaking into their home. (AP Photo/E Pablo Kosmicki)

PITKIN COUNTY ” Stiff penalties for not having a bear-proof garbage container in Pitkin County and the city of Aspen are helping keep bruins at bay, according to local law enforcement and Colorado Division of Wildlife officials.

With area bears starved from failed berry and acorn crops looking for daily meals in local Dumpsters ” and an increase in dangerous human-bear encounters ” both the city and county tightened ordinances for trash containers and raised fines for noncompliant businesses and homeowners. In Pitkin County, it’s now $350 for a first-time offender with a noncompliant garbage container, and in the city of Aspen the penalty is $250.

Second and third offenses come with respective fines of $500 and $1,000 in both the city and county.

“The city and the county are being more aggressive,” said District Wildlife Manager Kevin Wright. “I think there’s been some improvement with some of the compliance.”

And while there are still “plenty of bear issues in Aspen,” Wright said he is encouraged by the aggressive steps of officials and citizens alike.

“I think hopefully people are going to start paying attention,” Wright said, adding that the “frustration is still there.”

Wright has investigated bear break-ins in which homeowners left windows or car doors open and gave bears easy access to food.

“People need to be diligent. If you go into town, close your windows and lock your doors,” Wright said.

“We’ve had at least a couple of weeks where things have certainly slowed down in the number of bears we’ve had to deal with,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.

But the new ordinances and fines will have a bigger impact on the situation in the coming years, Hampton said.

“If we head into next year with strong ordinances and enforcement in place, that’s where it’s going to make the long-term improvement for bears,” Hampton said.

ReRe Baker, animal safety director for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office, said: “It’s just like night and day. I think there’s a lot more compliance,”

Baker has written one ticket since the fines increased Aug. 22, and she said Carrington Brown, Pitkin County’s code-enforcement officer, has written two.

But Baker stressed all three violators were quick to comply, buy a new bear-proof trash container (for about $350 ” the amount of the fine) and she was able to tear up each ticket.

Parking officials in Aspen have written a total of 23 citations for non-compliant Dumpsters since May, and four since the fines increased, according to city records.

“They’re definitely stepping up to the plate,” Baker said of area residents, and one reason is the increased leverage of stiff fines.

“You have to pay it or you go to court,” Baker said.

Baker first warned county homeowners about the increased fines and said she returned later to find entire neighborhoods in full compliance.

A public service announcement on local radio warning businesses and homeowners about the importance of securing trash (and penalties for noncompliance) as well as coverage in local press have also “made a big impact,” Baker said.

And Baker chalks up any positive change in the local bear situation to cooperation among area agencies and DOW officials efforts to relocate bears.

“This is not a summer time thing. You have to have a bear proof trash can year-round,” Baker said, adding that she’ll be writing tickets for non-compliant garbage cans and bins all year.

Baker’s goal is that all area residents have bear-proof containers by the spring of 2008 to put a stop to the recurring bear problem.

“People should really police their own neighborhoods. If they see a violation they should call the sheriff’s office,” Baker said.

And Baker suggested adding a quarter cup of bleach to trash before hauling it to the curb as well as regularly cleaning trash containers with a bleach wash.