Hitting the bear problem head on | AspenTimes.com

Hitting the bear problem head on

Sometimes it hurts to do the right thing, and this is one of those times.

It’s abundantly clear, given the slaughter of black bears that occurred last summer in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, that Aspen needs to change the way it handles garbage. As long as bears are able to simply troll Aspen’s alleys, toppling trash cans and ripping open trash bags, we are going to spend taxpayer dollars on killing and relocating hungry bruins.

The current arrangement does not work. Though Aspenites may disagree on the solutions, they can all agree that what we’ve experienced during several recent summers – a feeding frenzy by bears, and then a killing spree by the Colorado Division of Wildlife – is a shame and a public-policy failure.

Last summer, DOW officers killed a record 30 bears from Aspen to Basalt.

We empathize with wildlife officers who must kill the offending bears. The bears are dangerous to humans when they get accustomed to human food, and the officers are legally bound to kill animals that damage property or tangle with people. Last year three people were scratched in bear encounters, though none were seriously injured.

The only real solution to this problem is for Aspenites to improve the way they store and handle garbage. And the city of Aspen is preparing changes to the municipal code to address it.

The proposed new laws, if approved by the City Council, will hit locals in the pocketbook, and nobody likes the government telling them how to spend their money. But we support the city’s intent to require residents to buy wildlife-resistant trash containers. It will cost households hundreds of dollars apiece, but it’s probably the single most effective way to keep bears out of people’s garbage.

We recognize that a few hundred dollars is a lot of money to some working locals, and we’d hope that the city might offer some financial assistance to residents who can demonstrate a hardship.

Of course, the containers themselves aren’t the only aspect of the proposed legislation. The proposed law would also limit the hours that containers can be outside; require trash haulers to identify each container and the customer responsible for it; and require construction sites to provide wildlife-resistant containers.

These changes will make individual homeowners and tenants accountable for their garbage, and will also enable city officials to contact violators and enforce the laws.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but this medicine might have a chance of saving bears’ lives, and preventing human-bear conflicts. In our view, that’s a step forward.

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