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County to bear-proof its garbage containers

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County is fine-tuning an ordinance that will require bear-proof garbage containers county-wide.

The bear-protection ordinance, which is expected to become law this fall, will only regulate trash handling and storage and won’t be as detailed or as long as ordinances adopted by Snowmass Village and the city of Aspen in recent years. But the commissioners have told county staff they want it to have enforcement language that will get the attention of lazy citizens.

The county commissioners made a few adjustments to a draft of the ordinance as it was presented by landfill director Miles Stotts and county wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky in a work session Tuesday.

The draft called for county residents to store trash either in an approved, animal-resistant container, or in containers which are stored inside a building, garage or approved enclosure.

Lowsky recommended that the wording be changed to animal-proof, and the commissioners generally agreed.

“If we’re going to do it right, we should make it `bear-proof,'” Lowsky said. “Animal-resistant” doesn’t imply that the container would keep all bears out all of the time. The Colorado Division of Wildlife, the town of Snowmass Village and the city of Aspen have all specified “animal-proof,” he observed.

Some animal-resistant containers are partly made of such materials as plastic and wood, but steel is the ideal material, Lowsky said. Places such as West Yellowstone, where grizzly bears are common, have adopted ordinances which are stricter in the type and strength of containers required. Compliance is not hard to enforce there.

“It’s different when you have grizzlies, because then, you’re on the menu,” Lowsky said.

Such containers are available locally at a cost of between $350 and $650.

The draft ordinance Stotts presented called for a warning on first offense, a $50 fine on second offense and $500 for the third offense. Commissioner Patti Clapper noted that these meager fines would not be enough of a threat to get some Aspenites out of bed in the morning to take out the trash.

“I think the fines need to be steeper,” Clapper said. She noted that the county’s noise ordinance, which doesn’t concern public safety as deeply as the bear ordinance, can yield an optional three-day jail sentence. “I think people need to take this seriously,” she said.

“I think the fine ought to be the cost of a bear-proof container,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris.

“I like that,” Clapper said. “Either you pay us the fine, or you buy the container.” They agreed the first offense should get a warning, the second a $350 fine and the third offense a $1,000 fine.

The ordinance would require that construction sites have a separate trash container for food waste, removed daily, to prevent bear problems in Dumpsters for construction waste. It also would require licensed waste haulers who provide containers to make animal-proof containers available to customers.

The proposed regulations don’t deal with pet food, barbecue grills, bird feeders or hummingbird feeders because, as Division of Wildlife sources have noted, 90 percent of bear problems result from improper handling of garbage.


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