Pitco adopts emergency bear law | AspenTimes.com

Pitco adopts emergency bear law

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Hoping to ease a worsening problem with bears scavenging near homes, the Pitkin County commissioners passed an emergency ordinance Wednesday aimed at what they see as the cause ” people.

The ordinance, which took effect immediately, increases fines to as much as $1,000 for leaving trash bins open and not using bear-resistant containers, and allows officers to take the initiative in cracking down on violators rather than waiting for complaints or issuing only warnings.

The unanimous vote comes as state and local officers struggle to keep up with calls about bears invading homes and raiding garbage cans. A long-term drought and a shortage of berries and acorns have driven bears to town in search of food, escalating conflicts with humans.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has already euthanized seven bears in the Aspen area this year and relocated at least 11, and the worst of the season is still ahead, when bears ramp up their consumption from about 3,000 calories a day to 20,000 to prepare for hibernation.

“Human action or inaction is the problem,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.

Aspen and Pitkin County, like most mountain communities, have ordinances requiring bear-resistant garbage cans and discouraging people from leaving out pet food, bird feeders and other items that will attract the animals.

The new county ordinance, though, gives teeth to the law, said Re Re Baker, the sheriff’s department’s animal safety officer.

Baker said the old law was driven more by complaints. Officers would issue warnings if they found open garbage cans or other violations. She said officers will now be able to write tickets for a first offense, although the fine likely will be waived if people agree to buy the right garbage cans.

Previously, there was no penalty for a first offense. The new law imposes a $350 fine for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for the third. Businesses face a $750 fine for a second violation.

Kevin Wright, the district manager for the Division of Wildlife, said wildlife officials get complaints when bears are euthanized after encounters with humans. Some people also think the division should feed the bears because their normal fare is scarce, he said.

Wildlife officials say feeding bears would create more problems, including artificially supporting a population that the natural habitat cannot.

The Division of Wildlife typically gives a bear two chances. The first time it confronts people, it is moved and tagged. It is euthanized if it gets into a second conflict with people.

But wildlife officers will euthanize aggressive bears. The bears killed this year include ones that have crashed through locked and closed windows and doors to rummage through houses.

Other Western states, such as Nevada, are also coping with more bear encounters because of the drought and more development in bear territory.