The Sopris Sun

Bears pulling late season forays into valley towns

Sopris Sun Staff Report

The general opinion among wildlife experts in Western Colorado earlier in the summer was that there was more than enough bear fodder in the high country this year, and the bears were not likely to be heading into local towns in large numbers to forage through garbage cans to fatten up for the winter.

But, according to area wildlife manager Perry Will, that outlook has changed somewhat.

“Activity has really picked up in the last three weeks, as far as bear conflicts,” said Will.

He reported that there have been numerous conflicts between bears and humans in the upper regions of the Roaring Fork Valley, and even a few bear sightings in Carbondale.

That means it is time for Carbondale residents to think about buying a bear-proof trash container to keep in compliance with the town’s stated and ongoing desire to discourage bears from rooting around in trash cans.

That is because it is that time of the year when bears need to bulk up for their winter hibernation, and the bruins become fairly indiscriminate about what they eat.

The town board of trustees last May reauthorized a 2014 ordinance requiring residents to have bear-proof trash containers, and discussed adding a provision to keep chicken coops surrounded by electrified fencing (to be turned on only at night to prevent injury to children), to discourage bears from having a snack of one sort or another.

The “chicken-coop legislation,” as it has been dubbed by town officials, was later deemed “unenforceable” and was pulled from consideration, according to Town Clerk Cathy Derby.

“The real conversation, among the trustees, was that we have never had this happen in town (an attack by a bear on chickens in a coop), so why are we creating legislation around it?” added Trustee Allyn Harvey.

In addition, bear-proof-trash ordinance revisions have yet to be drafted and brought back to the board of trustees, but are due to appear on a board agenda in late August, Derby said.

In the meantime, an emergency ordinance passed in September 2014 remains in effect. It requires residents to only put trash out between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. on the day the trash is to be collected.

The law also states that outside of those times, trash must be kept inside a garage or shed, unless it is in a bear-proof container as identified by the International Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC).

The law also established a fine schedule ($250 or $500, increasing for multiple violations) for residents whose trash does attract a bear, although the ticket and fine have typically been waived once the resident buys an acceptable trash container.

Carbondale Police Lt. Chris Wurtsmith said there were seven tickets issued in 2014 for violations of the ordinance, but that all seven were voided when the homeowner complied with the law.

This year, he said, “There have been no citations issued,” and the police “are going to be in a reactive position” regarding enforcement this fall, meaning if there is an incident the police will respond and write citations.

Town officials indicated there have been few bears spotted in the mid-valley area this year, but a regional wildlife officer said it is more of a problem than is commonly known.

“There’s been a fair number of bear sightings around the Carbondale area,” said Will, who has worked for more than three decades in state wildlife management.

The sightings, he explained, have included “some in town, the outskirts of town, anyway,” and are indicative that although the high-country forage is still in fair shape, it is not as plentiful as once thought.

“The oaks and acorns are in good shape,” he said of two food sources popular with bears.

But serviceberries and chokecherries, also part of a bear’s staple diet, are not as plentiful as he had expected.

“It’s not a bumper-crop year like I thought it was going to be,” Will mused.

In some areas, Will said, bears have been attacking and killing livestock, mostly pigs raised by local youngsters as 4-H projects, which generally are penned up and cannot run from hungry bears.

Published in The Sopris Sun on August 20, 2015.