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Trustees running to keep ahead of bear problems

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Chicken coop ordinance coming soon

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

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Chicken coops, back yard fruit trees and bears in an urban setting can be a recipe for trouble, a local wildlife officer told the Carbondale Board of Trustees at a recent meeting, and everything possible should be done to avoid situations where hungry bears invade back yards.

That was one of numerous topics discussed at a May 19 work session, where the specific subject at hand was Carbondale’s emergency 2014 “bear-proof trash receptacle” ordinance, passed last September and up for possible modification this summer.

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The ordinance was seen as a way of forcing local homeowners and businesses to deal with their garbage in a way that prevents bears from getting into the trash and, in some cases, the home, which could result in a bear either being killed or relocated to another part of the Western Slope.

Carbondale area wildlife manager John Groves, who spoke at the meeting, said the 2014 ordinance has been “fairly good” at achieving its intended goal.

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But, Groves added, strict enforcement is needed to keep local bears from getting themselves into trouble, and using up-to-date bear-proof trash containers is critical.

He told the trustees that a popular trash container that caught on last year — the BearSaver — was found to be not that effective in deterring bears from getting into the trash.

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He said that in spite of its certification by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which rates trash receptacles according to their bear-proof qualities, the BearSaver proved to be no match for the intelligence of the local black bear population. Bears quickly figured out how to open the things up and snack on the goodies inside.

The trustee discussion at one point on May 19 turned to the idea of the town subsidizing the purchases of bear-proof trash cans, an idea that the mayor did not support.

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“I think people can figure that out one way or another,” Mayor Stacey Bernot remarked.

“I think Carbondale needs to start a fairly aggressive program regarding the replacement of trash containers,” said Trustee Allyn Harvey, adding that the town could provide residents with up-to-date information about which containers are most effective against hungry bears.

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Trustee Katrina Byars, however, told her fellow trustees that when the ordinance passed last year, “I felt like we were putting the burden on the individual, rather than on the industry.” She said she supported exploration of getting the industry involved in helping with the container-replacement program.

In response to questions from the trustees, Police Chief Gene Schilling reported that his officers wrote “quite a few” tickets to homeowners who failed to obey the emergency ordinance, adding that the ticket was voided if the homeowner went out right away and got a bear-proof trash can.

“We had a lot of people take advantage of that last year,” Schilling said.

Corral those chickens

Although the meeting was a work session, meaning that no decisions could be made as it was not a noticed regular meeting, one of Groves’ suggestions garnered support — to use electrified fencing to keep chickens corralled and discourage bears from breaking into the coops.

Chickens roaming around the back yard, Groves told the trustees, “are probably the number one draw for predators.”

The mayor commented that perhaps the town should “beef it up” in terms of ordinances requiring residents who keep chickens to also invest in electrified fencing for the coops where the chickens roost overnight.

That suggestion found support from Trustee Frosty Merriott, who said he had read research in favor of the idea. But, he noted, regulations requiring the use of electrified fencing “should be a must,” explaining that without enforcement any such legislation might be a waste of time.

Another primary attraction for bears, Groves noted, is the presence of fruit trees, which offer the same kind of nourishment that bears normally find when they are foraging in the wild.

“I don’t want to deny anybody their fruit trees, but it is an attractant,” Groves said.

Even the use of electrified fencing does not always work to keep the bears away from the tasty fruit, Groves continued, particularly where bears already had been invading a property before the electrified fence went up.

In such cases, he said, bears will “put up with the shock” in order to get to the fruit.

“I’m a little nervous about the electrification,” said Schilling, explaining that local children tend to roam around and might end up on the receiving end of a shocking accident.

Schilling suggested the electrified fencing could be turned on only at night, which is the bears’ primary time to feed, a move that Groves said would be “tremendous progress” toward a final solution to the problem.

The trustees agreed that the town could issue alerts to homeowners about the requirement, printed in English and Spanish.

Town Manager Jay Harrington wrote in an e-mail on Monday that the “chicken coop legislation” currently is being drafted, for trustee review at a future date.

Published in The Sopris Sun on May 28, 2015.

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