Loophole in bear-proofing law | AspenTimes.com

Loophole in bear-proofing law

Aspen Times Staff Report

A loophole in Aspen’s wildlife ordinance that has allowed bears to dine regularly in the trash containers at a local supermarket will likely be closed by the time the animals emerge from hibernation next spring.

Bryan Flynn, the city’s environmental ranger, said Monday he will recommend some amendments to Aspen’s Wildlife Protection Ordinance. Eliminating a provision that allows the use of trash containers that aren’t bear-proof, so long as they are emptied daily, is at the top of his list.

“The sooner, the better,” said City Councilman Terry Paulson of the planned revisions to the law.

The ordinance, adopted last year, requires all receptacles that contain edible refuse to be bear-proof. The law exempts garbage containers that serve five or fewer residences and are emptied daily.

The city has discovered, though, that bears will find the garbage even if a container is emptied every day, Flynn said.

“It doesn’t matter how long it’s in there – the bears have proven us wrong,” he said.

In addition, businesses that have their garbage emptied daily are using the provision to escape the requirements for bear-proof containers. Clark’s Market has its Dumpsters emptied twice a day, seven days a week, but bears are regular visitors to the supermarket’s Dumpsters, Flynn said.

“I don’t think anybody meant to provide a loophole for Clark’s Market,” said Loren Ryerson, an assistant chief with the Aspen Police Department. Police have twice shot non-lethal bean bags at bears behind the supermarket, he said.

Officers recently began using bean bags fired with a shotgun to chase off bears – a practice that sparked a complaint to the City Council from citizen George Detko. He appeared before council members at their informal noon meeting yesterday.

Detko, a bus driver who said he often sees bears in garbage during his late-night bus runs, suggested the bean bags are inhumane and will make the bears more aggressive toward people.

Until the city deals with the open garbage all over town, the bears should not be shot unless they’re threatening someone, he argued.

Flynn disagreed. The bears need to be discouraged from feeding on garbage in conjunction with stepped-up efforts to make containers bear-proof or bear-resistant, he said.

Since Sept. 27, bean bags have been fired at bears six times, according to Ryerson. When aimed properly – at a bear’s rump for example – no injury is supposed to result, he said.

“I don’t like the idea of shooting a creature, but I really don’t like the idea of killing it,” said Ryerson, defending the non-lethal ammunition.

Local police have responded to an unprecedented number of bear calls this year. A dry summer depleted the animals’ natural food sources, driving them into town to forage for trash with greater frequency than usual.

The City Council has already discussed dispensing with warnings for trash violations and issuing tickets immediately next year.

In addition, Flynn said he will propose several other changes to the wildlife ordinance. He wants the ordinance to be in effect year-round, instead of just from April to November. He also wants trash haulers that provide containers to customers to be required by law to provide bear-proof receptacles.

The city also needs to draft specific guidelines defining a bear-proof container, Flynn said.

Some of the supposedly bear-proof trash containers have plastic lids, noted Detko.

“This [a bear] is a 500-pound can opener. To claim that’s bear-proof is absurd,” he said.

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