Our View: Steamboat bear regulations falling short
August 24, 2014
The growing problem with trash bears.
City Council needs to consult with other mountain towns on bear problem.
The large number of photographs of urban bears being shared by the readers of Steamboat Today this summer confirms that the potential for human/bear encounters here is on the rise. But if you want to get a sense of how prevalent garbage bears have become in Steamboat Springs, you need to walk the length of Old Town via its alleyways.
Invariably, on any morning of the week, you'll see shredded trash in the alleys with an occasional large bear dropping. It should be clear to everyone that community efforts to manage our bear problem are insufficient.
We think it's time that Steamboat Springs City Council take a fresh look at some of the measures being incorporated in other mountain towns and revisit the city's bear ordinance that was passed in 2005 (the city acted to place bear-proof trash containers in its parks in 2008).
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins agreed this week: "The whole ordinance needs to be looked at and changed. We don't think it's adequate."
Plainly frustrated, Haskins mused aloud this week about the possibility of neutering the known resident black bear sows in the city limits in order to reduce the numbers of yearling males that represent a majority of Steamboat's problems. He also cites a perceived lack of enforcement of existing bear city ordinances.
Parks and Wildlife officers have euthanized two incorrigible bears that were trapped after breaking into homes this year, Haskins said. However, efforts to trap other bears for relocation were unsuccessful. He is dubious about the effectiveness of relocating bears, which tend to find their way back to town, anyway.
Haskins said his staff has made informal evening surveys of the downtown commercial district and observed numerous commercial dumpsters containing food waste that were not secured.
We don't mean to single out Old Town — humans are allowing bears to feast in trash containers all across town. While some Steamboat residents are spending less than $50 to have their Waste Management rollaways upgraded with a latching hasp, others are seemingly indifferent to the issue.
"We do animal resistant hasps on our 96-gallon tote and it's a good deterrent," Steve Johnson, manager of Waste Management's Steamboat facility said this week. "But they're not like the $200 bear savers that somebody could buy."
We know that other mountain towns like Aspen and several municipalities in the Vail Valley have embraced more robust ordinances pertaining to bears in recent years.
In Aspen, where a law enforcement officer was injured by a bear in July, city ordinances provide that "any trash hauler who provides a refuse container to a city customer shall only provide wildlife-resistant refuse containers."
Steamboat allows residents to place non-"bear-proof" containers outside between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on pickup days. Since 2010, Aspen has required wildlife resistant containers at the curb on pickup days.
Steamboat fines violators up to $100. Aspen's fines are $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and $999 for a third offense,which comes with a mandatory court appearance.
We would hope that Steamboat would not have to resort to such stiff penalties in order to become more responsible about protecting wildlife, while cleaning up a messy problem. But residents and city officials have yet to show the will required to deal with this growing problem responsibly.
City Council and administrators would do well to consult with their counterparts in other cities and strengthen their partnership with Parks and Wildlife in order to take on this issue before it becomes more problematic.