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Town grappling with bears, trash is the problem

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More discussion on Sept. 23

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Correspondent

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Carbondale’s ongoing battle with garbage-eating bruins appears ready to move into a new phase, following a decision by the board of trustees on Tuesday to try to make residents more responsible in terms of putting out the trash every week.

Trustee Frosty Merriott, at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, suggested the town should tighten up its own regulations regarding trash pickup, and somehow exempt itself from the “two strikes and you’re out” rule that results in the death of bears at the hands of local law enforcement and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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Demanding that the town government do something to get local residents to observe the rules for putting trash out for collection — no earlier than 6 a.m. on trash day to limit the temptation for bears to go Dumpster diving — Merriott argued that the town government should step in to force residents to be more compliant and responsible.

Otherwise, he said, it is the bears that pay the price of the residents’ poor behavior, by being trapped and euthanized under the “two-strike” rule.

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“I think the two-strike policy is absurd,” Merriott said, referring to the state rule that calls for bears to be euthanized once they have been caught twice coming into a town or residential area in search of trash to eat.

While looking into the issue, Merriott continued, he learned that the town has no specific regulations about bears, and no way of forcing residents to be more careful with their trash.

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“We are not nearly in a position where we can stop people” from putting their trash out the night before, or require residents to use bear-proof trash container, Merriott declared.

He argued for revisions to the town code to mandate fines for violators, adding, “I do not want to see a bear in Carbondale in one of those traps just because some idiot left his trash out overnight!”

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The problem of bears eating out of Dumpsters and trashcans, and, in some cases breaking into homes in search of food, has been exacerbated this year by scant natural food supplies in the high country. Bears right now are desperately trying to fatten themselves for the winter hibernation months, and have become a growing problem for homes and businesses up and down the valley, including in Carbondale.

Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington conceded that the ordinance needs to be revised, noting, “People are clueless about what it means to be living in bear country” and seem incapable of understanding that their trash behavior can have dire consequences for bears.

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“This is definitely an epic bear year … more activity in Carbondale than we’ve seen in a long time,” Harrington told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday.

Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said he could not give exact numbers for bears in local trash receptacles, other than to say there have been “bunches” of reports from residents of Carbondale and Satank, an unincorporated neighborhood to the northwest of the town itself.

The penalty for violating the town’s trash ordinance, Schilling said, is a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to a year.

The problem with enforcement, Schilling said, is partly one of determining exactly whom to charge for putting the trash out improperly, and partly one of money.

“If we were able to catch everybody and issue them summons for having their trash out early, you’d probably have 200 people coming into court,” Schilling mused. “It could be a very big administrative nightmare.”

A proposed emergency ordinance to deal with the issue, scheduled for discussion at the Sept. 23 trustee meeting, is to be aimed at “trying to make it more administratively feasible” for the town to clamp down on trash-can violations, Schilling explained.

Town officials told The Sopris Sun they think Colorado wildlife staffers have trapped one bear in recent memory, but Carbondale has never had a bear euthanized.

In other action, the trustees:

• Held a half-hour discussion with State Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Dist. 57, about a variety of topics.

• Agreed, after a suggestion by trustee Katrina Byars, to discuss legalizing same-sex marriages in Carbondale’s municipal code, at a work session on Sept. 16.

• Agreed, in principal, to release two dedicated affordable housing units in the Lofts at Dolores Park development, once an agreement is reached with developer Rick Balentine to ensure that the town’s affordable housing program gets some benefit from the project.

• Directed Boulder attorney Mike Chiropolos to file appeals of lease suspensions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of roughly 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area, in keeping with the town’s stated goal of preventing oil and gas drilling in the area.

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