Manitou council OKs measure to bear-proof trash

Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - November 22, 2017 - Updated: November 22, 2017

A bear ambles up Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs on June 14, 2017. City officials might institute a policy requiring residents to store their trash indoors until collection day or in bear-resistant containers to discourage the animals from wandering into urban areas. Photo courtesy of Nancy Wilson.

Manitou Springs citizens will have to use a wildlife-proof garbage bin or keep their trash indoors till collection day, the City Council decided Tuesday night with a unanimous vote.

Supporters say the law will protect not only bears and other beasts drawn to urban garbage, but also locals exposed to the wandering scavengers.

“We’re really happy tonight, for the benefit of both bears and our community,” said Nancy Wilson, an organizer with the grassroots Bear Smart Task Force. “We’re tired, number one, of hearing about bears being euthanized.”

Two dozen bears have been euthanized in the Pikes Peak region this summer because they had become habituated to humans, often by garbage, said Bill Vogrin, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

A mother bear and her two cubs were put down last week after they entered a home near North Cheyenne Cañon Park.

Manitou residents who don’t have a garage or other place to secure their trash will have to pay for critter-proof bins, which can cost more than $250. The bins are available to purchase through Bestway Disposal, the trash hauler that serves the city, Wilson said.

A proposal for the city’s 2018 budget, which is to be finalized in early December, sets aside $5,000 for implementation of the ordinance. Some of that money will be used for outreach and education related to the new law, Wilson said.

The city and the task force also will work with Parks and Wildlife to apply for grants that might subsidize the cost of the bins for those who can’t afford them and have no place to store garbage, she said.

“We don’t want it to be a hardship on anyone, but we want people to sit up and take notice that wildlife is being destroyed here because we’re not being responsible with our trash,” Wilson said.

The task force has been advocating for such a law since 2015, but its efforts gained momentum Sept. 5, after the council heard its presentation and asked staff to draft the ordinance.

The policy takes effect Jan. 1. First-time violations will result in a warning, and subsequent offenses will be penalized based on a graduated fine schedule. The amounts have not been set, said City Administrator Jason Wells.

Other Colorado mountain communities with such laws include Aspen, Boulder and Crested Butte.

Colorado Springs is exploring a similar policy for wooded areas on the city’s West Side, where bear encounters are more common, City Council President Richard Skorman said in September. City administrators have been asked to research potential ordinances, he said.

Bear encounters were reduced by about half in Durango after residents there were provided with bear-resistant trash cans, says a 2013 Parks and Wildlife study.

“Bears pretty much live to eat and eat to live,” said Cody Wigner, a district wildlife manager for Parks and Wildlife, after Tuesday night’s meeting. “Once they come in and get a meal out of a trash can, they’re highly intelligent, and they recognize trash cans as food sources. So they keep coming back to those food sources. The more time they spend in town, the more comfortable they get around people. The more comfortable they get around people, the more dangerous they get.”

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

Rachel Riley, The Gazette