By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Carbondale’s avian population took up considerable discussion time at this week’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, in the form of a citizen’s appeal for regulations to keep cats from roaming free and killing wild birds, and a new ordinance requiring residents to install electrified fencing to protect chickens from marauding bears.
Long time area resident Mary Harris, president of the Roaring Fork chapter of the Audubon Society, appeared during the citizen-comments portion of the meeting’s agenda to talk about the society’s ongoing campaign to convince cat owners to keep their felines under better control for the sake of local birds.
“It’s a huge, basically unrecognized problem,” she said of the annual death rate of wild birds killed by roaming, domesticated cats.
She maintained that cats, like dogs, must be controlled in order to prevent depredation of the local bird population.
And she showed a photo of her son, walking the family cat on a leash, saying, “It can be done.”
“Our native birds are in decline, some of them are in steep decline,” she told the trustees, “and nobody wants to deal with endangered species,” a reference to the possibility of federal laws kicking in to protect the local birds.
She said studies have shown that up to four billion birds fall prey to cats every year, a death rate she said is “second only to habitat loss,” and added that “birds play a very large role in maintaining our natural environment” and are critical to the existence of a healthy, active forest ecology.
The trustees responded positively to her concerns, starting with Mayor Stacey Bernot, who suggested Harris contact the town’s Environmental Board, a volunteer board that advises the trustees on environmental issues.
The mayor told Harris that the E-Board, as it is known, could work on a proposed ordinance and present that proposal to the trustees at a later date.
“I don’t think we would be opposed to the concept,” Bernot said, but she added that more details are needed before the trustees would want to act.
Trustee Frosty Merriott, after thanking Harris for bringing the matter to the board’s attention, noted that “it’s something that I would like to see.”
Bernot said the matter would be on the trustees’ June 23 agenda for further discussion.
On another birdie front, the trustees delayed approval of a new ordinance that would require residents to string electrified wire around backyard chicken coops, so that the wording of the ordinance could be modified.
As proposed, the ordinance would be enforced, with a citation by the local zoning enforcement officer, only after the coop in question had been attacked by a hungry bear, and there was no electrified fencing in place to discourage the bruin.
The coop owner will then be given the option of paying a fine or installing an electrified fence.
The ordinance is a result of a talk the trustees had recently with John Groves, district ranger with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, who had emphasized that hungry bears often are attracted to chicken coops and have been known to raid coops and kill chickens.
The entire Roaring Fork Valley annually experiences bear trouble, most notably when bad weather conditions cut into the production of the bears’ natural food sources in the high country and bears are forced to look for food in the towns up and down the valley.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling told the trustees he was unaware of any such bear attacks on chicken coops in Carbondale, but Town Manager Jay Harrington stated his belief that such attacks have happened, they simply have not been reported out of a homeowner’s reluctance to see a bear killed over the incident.
Harrington was referring to the state’s “two-strike” rule, under which a bear can be killed after a second incident of raiding a local property to obtain food.
“If we’ve never had an incident, and these things are expensive to build, and they’re in back yards where you’ve got kids and guests … the layers of dictation (dictatorial government oversight) are exceeding my tolerance,” said Trustee Pam Zentmyer.
Trustee Frosty Merriott noted that other experts have concurred, “bears and chickens don’t mix,” and opined that the ordinance is a valid reaction to the issue and would set a good example for other towns in the region.
John Hoffmann, on the other hand, stated that “in 30 years (of having a chicken coop) we’ve never had a bear around our chickens,” though he conceded that bears had fed off his fruit trees.
The mayor, who was raised on a local ranch, noted that she understood why people might not report a bear attack on their chickens, and sympathized.
“If I lost my chickens, I’d just replace them, because they’re cheaper than buying a fence,” she said.
The reworked ordinance is scheduled to be on the trustees’ consent calendar on June 23.
In other action the trustees:
• Unanimously appointed local resident Camy Britt to serve on the town’s volunteer Parks & Recreation Commission.
• Approved a permit for Sopris Liquor & Wine to hold tasting events at the store, in conjunction with the establishment’s liquor license.
• Approved special-event liquor licenses for the Sopris Music Fest (June 26-27 at the Fourth Street Plaza) and the Roaring Fork Rotary Club Foundation’s annual fundraiser, The Happening, scheduled for June 20 at The Orchard church on Snowmass Drive.
• Postponed consideration of a marijuana infused products business application, as the applicants did not appear to discuss the application. The public hearings about the application will be heard on July 14.
• Approved a plan to put solar panels on the roof of the under-construction Ross Montessori School even though the panels will reach higher than the town’s 28-foot height limit for the buildings. The approval was contingent on modification of a roof parapet so it would not extend above the 28-foot limit.
Published in The Sopris Sun on June 11, 2015.