The Steamboat Springs City Council gave the first approval of a bear ordinance that would allow the city manager to require residents to use wildlife-proof trash cans if their properties had repeated problems with wildlife.
The ordinance also would require any residents storing trash outside overnight or in the early morning to use a wildlife-proof trash can. Unlike the ordinance proposed in November, this one did not require all city residents to use wildlife-proof trash containers, regardless of where they live in the city and when they leave their trash out.
A second reading of an ordinance is required for the changes to go into effect. City officials hope to start enforcing the new ordinance this spring.
"It just seems we are going to have to get hardcore in (some) areas," Councilwoman Susan Dellinger said. "The whole point of this thing is to make sure the bears don't get into the trash, and to do that we need bear-proof containers."
The bear ordinance in place, which was adopted in 2001, requires wildlife-resistant trash containers for any garbage that is put out before 5 a.m. and left out after 6 p.m. on trash day. After pickup, all containers must be returned to the building, house, garage or Dumpster enclosure.
The proposed changes would allow the city manager to require residents who had more than one reported wildlife incident in three months to use a wildlife-proof trash can, even if the residents were not violating the ordinance.
The council did discuss lengthening the time in the evenings when residents could leave their trash outside. Councilman Ken Brenner said many working people would have trouble getting home before 6 p.m. to put their trash cans inside.
He thinks empty trash cans sitting out in the evening do not cause the problems, but full ones left out overnight do.
This summer, close to 200 warnings were issued to residents who were violating the city ordinance, but only four cases went to municipal court, and the judge dismissed two of those cases.
City Prosecutor Collette Erickson said violators could not be easily prosecuted because the existing bear ordinance is under the city nuisance code, and the nuisance just has to be abated for the case to be dismissed.
Erickson asked that the municipal judge have more flexibility with the penalties and recommended similar leeway that is given in assigning traffic fines. Under city law, most fines do not start for less than $45.
Erickson said it also could be possible for a judge to waive a $100 fine if the offender, on the second offense, agreed to purchase a wildlife-proof trash can.
Valerie Masiello, District Wildlife Manager for the Steamboat area, said the city's improved ordinance would not stop bears and other wildlife from coming into the city limits and into people's property, but it would reduce the risk of human and bear encounters.
"It is not going to keep them out of town, but it will keep them away from food and people," she said.
Taking away easily accessible trash cans as a food source and discouraging bears from being near residences, such as banging pots and pans and making loud noises, will send the message, she said.
"The only thing these bears have gotten in Steamboat Springs is positive reinforcement. We need to give them nothing or negative reinforcement," Masiello said.
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