Pitkin County mulls fencing bears out from landfill | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County mulls fencing bears out from landfill

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Bears might not be a problem in the Aspen area like they were a year ago, but officials at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center are being proactive on dealing with the unwanted four-legged visitors.

In 2012, it was estimated that approximately 16 bears were consistently frequenting the landfill, especially the composting area. While there have been no reports of aggressive bear behavior in the past, the landfill's high concentration of bears at the site increases the possibility for an encounter between a human and an aggressive bear.

Despite this being a year where plenty of natural food is available to the local bear population, Public Works Director Brian Pettet said the bear problem is cyclical and will need to be addressed eventually. Pettet's comments came Tuesday during a work session with the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.

In July, the commissioners requested price estimates for enclosing the compost area with solar-powered electric fencing as well as how much it would cost to enclose the entire landfill.

The estimated price to enclose the compost area is $51,750 to $60,950, with an annual maintenance cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

To enclose the entire landfill, the estimate is between $185,495 and $223,100. Those estimates do not include the cost to excavate an earthen platform around the entire landfill, which would add a substantial amount to the estimated cost.

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There also would be a $20,000 to $25,000 maintenance cost and $10,000 to $15,000 in electrical costs. A solar-powered fence will not work for around entire landfill.

Pettet told commissioners that fencing the landfill would produce many unwanted problems, such as having to open the fence every time a vehicle enters, and that the best solution might be a limited hunt of troublesome bears.

"From the staff perspective," Pettet said, "what we're recommending when the bear problem does happen again is that we're allowed to conduct somewhat of a limited hunt and cull that herd based on how many bears are coming in."

Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said relocating the bears is not a cure-all solution. He said it isn't easy finding a bear habitat with a good food source, no homes within 10 miles and no bears that will kill the relocated bear.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also needs approval from the wildlife supervisor in the area where it plans to relocate a bear.

"It's getting very difficult to find a supervisor in our state that will take a bear from Aspen," Wright said. "They don't want them because it creates more problems in their area."

The minimum distance to relocate a bear is 50 miles. Most adult bears try and return home anyway. Wright said the success rate for relocated bears is only 30 percent.

His recommendation would be to secure the landfill with fencing first, and if the bears are still a problem, then a limited hunt would be the next best option.

"It's not sporting to go up to a landfill and shoot a bear," Wright said. "But we need to address the issue."

None of the county commissioners openly supported killing bears.

Commissioner Michael Owsley said it's important to cut off access to food at the landfill.

"We've asked our citizens to lock up waste," he said. "Now we're reluctant to do the same thing because the cost is so great, but we need to. I don't want people killing bears on our property."

The commissioners agreed that putting up a fence is the logical first option and wanted to know when the best time would be to start such a project. They also wanted to know how much of an impact a fence would have on the entire landfill operation.

The commissioners would have to OK any costs to build a fence at the landfill before beginning any work.

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com

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