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Bear incidents up, ordinance compliance low

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff

Carbondale is experiencing “significant” activity related to the presence of numerous bears in town looking for food in local dumpsters, according to a statement issued by the police, and residents are being cautioned that they had better make sure their trash containers are sufficiently bear-proof to avoid penalties that can reach up to $1,300 in fines.

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To punctuate the point, on Aug. 9 a young bear cub, roaming with its mother around the streets of old town, was electrocuted when it climbed a power pole and had to be put down by the Carbondale Police Department. The cub’s mother, with another cub to care for, could be seen in a tree near where the cub had died for about a day, but was gone by the weekend.

The fact that Carbondale has been invaded by perhaps a dozen bears and cubs in recent weeks was confirmed by Perry Will, wildlife manager for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division.

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“It’s been the worst year I’ve ever seen” for bears in Carbondale, Will said in a telephone interview on Aug. 14.

He cited reports from another CPW wildlife manager, John Groves, that there are believed to be 12 bears roaming around the region of the confluence of the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers. Groves, Will said, has “been out hazing (driving the bears away from neighborhoods) and getting lots of calls.”

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Will said the division is not sure where the bears have come from before descending on Carbondale.

But what is certain, he continued, is that there is a lack of food for the bears in the nearby high country, thanks to a cold spring and a late freeze that killed off massive amounts of chokecherries and other foods that bears traditionally rely on through the summer months.

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Noting that other towns in the valley have been experiencing similar problems with bears raiding trash containers to get food, Will said one had been trapped in the Red Mountain area of luxury homes near Aspen on Monday.

None had been trapped in the Carbondale area as of Monday, he said, again citing reports from Groves.

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“He’ll probably have to start, though,” Will concluded unhappily.

Tickets to be issued

The town’s response has been to step up enforcement of an ordinance requiring homeowners to put their trash into “bear-proof” enclosures or trash receptacles, and only take it out to the curb for pickup on the day the trash trucks make their rounds.

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Putting it out earlier than that, or having it in unsecured trash cans, can result in fines ranging from $130 (including a one-time surcharge) for a second offense, up to $1,300 if a homeowner is found to have committed multiple offenses.

The first time draws only a warning, Carbondale Police Officer Gretchen Stock-Bell told The Sopris Sun.

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The law, passed in 2014, was in direct response to what was then seen as a growing bear infestation problem in Carbondale, although the police department had not issued many tickets prior to this year.

In fact, said Stock-Bell, last year there was only one fine against a homeowner, at the $130 level, and so far this year there have been no tickets and no fines assessed.

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“We’re really just trying to get people to follow the trash ordinance,” she said on Monday.

The problem is one of education and awareness, she noted: “I don’t think they’re trying to break the law.”

Recently, said Stock-Bell, she encountered a Spanish-speaking resident who had not complied with the ordinance and did not understand Stock-Bell’s efforts to inform him of the law.

She had to call a Spanish-speaking officer to interpret, which resulted in the man telling the officers that he understood and would comply.

She said could not cite a percentage of the population who are not obeying with the trash law, adding, “It’s not fixed, by any means, but I to think there is more compliance.”

The matter has drawn the attention of the Board of Trustees in recent weeks, who have discussed ways to increase both the community awareness of the bear problem, and the provisions of the ordinance.