If bears get into trouble, people will pay the price
Aspen residents may soon be required to keep their garbage under wraps – literally – or face escalating fines and the threat of being hauled into court.
Wildlife and public safety officials in Aspen are doing everything they can to avoid the decision their counterparts in Snowmass Village faced last summer. Five black bears were put to death there, after they lumbered into people’s homes in search of food.
“The bears get so used to humans that they were not afraid anymore,” said Aspen Community Safety Officer Rick Magnuson.
Neither Magnuson nor Environmental Ranger Brian Flynn relish the idea of having to tackle a bear in somebody’s kitchen, so they’ve written an ordinance aimed at keeping critters out of town and in the wild, where they belong.
The proposed Wildlife Protection Ordinance requires businesses and homeowners and apartment dwellers to either keep their garbage inside, except on collection day, or use wildlife-resistant garbage containers. It also bans the feeding of wildlife.
“No person shall knowingly leave or store any refuse, food product, pet food, grain or salt in a manner which would constitute a lure, attraction or enticement of wildlife,” the proposed ordinance reads.
It also requires bird feeders to be suspended in a way that keeps them out of the reach of bears.
The new law would be in effect between April 15 and Nov. 15, and carries fines that escalate with successive violations. Someone caught storing garbage outside in an unapproved container, for instance, would be fined $50 the first offense, $250 the second time and would be required to explain their continued intransigence in court after a third violation.
Flynn said the new law needs to be enacted as soon as possible, because bears are already beginning to come out of hibernation. He said a bear was sighted near the Fryingpan River last weekend.
The City Council had its first look at the ordinance at yesterday’s lunchtime work session, and put it on a fast track for approval, but not before making a few suggestions.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards suggested Flynn and Magnuson put together a full-blown informational campaign to accompany the new law. In addition to a pamphlet on bears, she recommended a cover letter explaining people’s responsibilities and a pamphlet with headlines and excerpts from news stories about the problem in Snowmass Village last summer.
Snowmass has already adopted tougher trash laws in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last summer’s troubles.
Mayor John Bennett asked Flynn and Magnuson to use extremely clear language and add a few definitions to the ordinance. He also questioned the effects of the ordinance on people who live on a tight budget in a small apartment – they might have a harder time complying with the new law.
Magnuson said that he and Flynn were already looking into possible solutions, including purchasing a dumpster for people who can’t afford to comply with the law. Richards pointed out how difficult it is to discriminate between those who deserve access to the dumpster and those who would simply be looking for a cheap way to get rid of their garbage.
First reading on the ordinance is scheduled for the council’s regular meeting on April 12; second reading with a public hearing is scheduled for April 26.
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