Joe O'Reilly: Bear policy issues

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I was among the many "disgruntled" residents in Westland Trailer Park who received a court summons -- not a ticket, mind you -- for noncompliance of the new bear/trash policy.

I fully understand and recognize the importance of mitigating situations that put wildlife and humans in danger, especially as we enter into spring. What is frustrating is that City Council members think the only way to build community support to counter this problem is to show up at our doors with court summons. This is a flawed approach for a number of reasons.

For one, it does not present a positive image of how the city enforces policy. If anything, it has aggravated a number of residents who were unaware of the details of the city ordinance. Instead of reaching out and communicating the concern in a proactive way, the town served us papers and told us to pose our questions to the judge.

Second, the sheer volume of people cited in Westland Trailer Park is proof enough that there is a fracture in communication between the City Council and local governing bodies and residents. The easy solution evidently has been to foist the blame on residents because they didn't read the little "Bear Blurb" on Page 9 of Monday's Steamboat Today or didn't listen to the radio or couldn't get off their shifts to attend the weekly City Council meeting. There has to be a better way to communicate policy.

Third, the city's presentation about the new bear ordinance to the public is vague: it does not clarify whether this law includes putting out recycling, for example. This should be made clear in the brochure/flier that now is circulating among residents, but it isn't. How can the town expect and demand full compliance if the policy itself is flawed?

Fourth, last summer, the police department was issuI was among the many "disgruntled" residents in Westland Trailer Park who received a court summons -- not a ticket, mind you -- for noncompliance of the new bear/trash policy.

I fully understand and recognize the importance of mitigating situations that put wildlife and humans in danger, especially as we enter into spring. What is frustrating is that City Council members think the only way to build community support to counter this problem is to show up at our doors with court summons. This is a flawed approach for a number of reasons.

For one, it does not present a positive image of how the city enforces policy. If anything, it has aggravated a number of residents who were unaware of the details of the city ordinance. Instead of reaching out and communicating the concern in a proactive way, the town served us papers and told us to pose our questions to the judge.

Second, the sheer volume of people cited in Westland Trailer Park is proof enough that there is a fracture in communication between the City Council and local governing bodies and residents. The easy solution evidently has been to foist the blame on residents because they didn't read the little "Bear Blurb" on Page 9 of Monday's Steamboat Today or didn't listen to the radio or couldn't get off their shifts to attend the weekly City Council meeting. There has to be a better way to communicate policy.

Third, the city's presentation about the new bear ordinance to the public is vague: it does not clarify whether this law includes putting out recycling, for example. This should be made clear in the brochure/flier that now is circulating among residents, but it isn't. How can the town expect and demand full compliance if the policy itself is flawed?

Fourth, last summer, the police department was issuing warnings to residents in some of the more affluent neighborhoods in town to get word out and begin enforcing the new policy. Why aren't they using a similar probationary approach now? To offer a waiver for the fine to residents who buy a $175 bear-resistant container, then pay an additional monthly service charge to Waste Management is absurd. This is a cop-out by the City Council and fails to address the problem. Again, it presents a negative example of how to best enforce regulations -- action first, questions later.

I have spoken with Wendy DuBord and local law enforcement officials about the situation and have received mixed reactions. The primary justification for serving court summons, DuBord said, is because that's the only way people will comply. She also said the city was not out to make money on this venture, which clearly is stated in the flier now circulating: "Our goal is not to issue citations and collect fines. Our goal IS to protect local wildlife and prevent tragic encounters between humans, pets, and wildlife." The irony is that I received this flier along with a court summons and the threat of a $100 fine.

Plain and simple, having a bear/trash policy in town is important to the well-being of not only Steamboat residents, but the ecosystem we work, play and live in. As such, residents should be forced to carefully consider how they conduct themselves and how their actions affect the environment and be held accountable for noncompliance. The City Council needs to approach the problem with similar due diligence and sensitivity: first, correcting and clarifying the new ordinance, then properly disseminating this information to the public. After that, it can start writing tickets.

Joe O'Reilly

Steamboat Spring

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