A Colorado State University student met with city and Aspen police officials last week to present the findings of her bear study and offer suggestions on how they can better manage attractants.
Sharon Baruch-Mordo met with Mayor Mick Ireland and Gretchen Born, community safety supervisor in the Aspen Police Department.
While the city already has implemented some of the suggestions (her study was conducted from 2005 to 2010), much more can be done to change human behavior, Baruch-Mordo said.
“I felt like the next step was presenting the findings to the city,” she said. “There is more that can be done. … The ball is in the city’s court.”
Baruch-Mordo pointed to the abundant crab apple trees in the area and the city’s trash and recycling receptacles that are partially open on the top as problematic because they serve as attractants for bears. She suggested that the cans be replaced with ones that comply with the city’s trash container ordinance.
Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), considers those relatively new receptacles as “a step backwards,” he said.
Baruch-Mordo suggests that the crab apple trees be replaced with flowering but non-fruit bearing varieties, or at least spray them every spring to prevent fruit production.
Ireland acknowledged that the city’s open trash containers need to be replaced or altered. Removing every crab apple tree in the city is not likely, although they can be phased out, Ireland said.
He said it was a good study, and City Hall and the Aspen Police Department must be in sync to be effective in changing people’s behavior when it comes to bears and trash.
“What she is saying is that what we are doing doesn’t work … that fines are better than education,” he said. “The only way people will respond is with a monetary fine. … They only respond to immediate action.”
Baruch-Mordo suggested that one violation notice is not enough and fines should be issued to change the behavior of repeat violators. She said police should patrol city streets and alleys daily for violators, as well as construction dumpsters (one of the biggest violators) and restaurants’ grease storage.
Blair Weyer, community relations specialist for the APD, said the city has done quite a bit to remove attractants since Baruch-Mordo’s study was conducted.
Besides requiring every household since 2010 to have a bear-resistant trash container that can only be put out on the day of pick-up and commercial dumpster regulations, the APD has a dedicated officer who patrols three days a week in the early morning hours for violators and he also provides educational outreach. Aspen police and community safety officers also do routine patrols.
“A lot of changes have been made,” she said. “We really embrace that proactive enforcement.”
Yet, on Baruch-Mordo’s recent trip to Aspen, she did her own survey in the early morning through downtown alleys and saw that most dumpsters were not secured.
“Every time I come back to Aspen, it’s like a compulsive obsessive behavior and I look at the dumpsters, go through alleys,” she said. “We can do more.”
That’s why she has suggested that the trash ordinance be enforced year-round.
“Do not wait for bears to emerge from hibernation or for a bad bear year to occur,” she wrote to city officials. “This goal is to change human behavior and this requires a constant effort.”
Even though bruins don’t typically come out of hibernation until May, there have been sightings of at least one bear eating garbage in the downtown and West End neighborhoods for the past several weeks.
“There’s one reason he’s there,” Will said.
While the CPW works closely with the city, the county and local law enforcement, there needs to be a greater emphasis on curbing the trash that’s available in town.
“If you remove the attractants you won’t have a problem,” Will said. “It’s not rocket science. ... It’s a situation that just makes you want to pull your hair out.”
Will acknowledged that Aspen is unique because it is situated in prime bear habitat.
The Aspen Police Department responded to 1,040 bear calls in 2012. Officers issued 11 written warnings and 11 tickets in 2012 for people who were violating the bear-resistant trash can ordinance. By comparison, the Snowmass Village Police Department wrote 12 citations in 2012.
The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office responded to 362 bear calls last year. Enforcement falls to Carrington Brown, the county’s code enforcement officer. He said he wrote fewer tickets than the APD last year, and focuses on education as much as possible.
The county also has a wildife-resistant trash container ordinance, and requires that cans be put out only on pick-up day. Brown said he has even gone out and purchased a conforming can for a resident who couldn’t afford one, and fines are waived if a person buys a can before his or her court date.
“We believe in education and I will go out and personally educate,” Brown said. “Occasionally we have people who don’t comply.”
Trash enforcement in the county is complaint based, he added.
“If I hear of a problem, I would focus on that area,” Brown said. “The warning is when the work is done.
“We’re about compliance, we’re not about punitive, vindictive methods.”
Baruch-Mordo also suggested that housing complexes have garbage rooms that have air-tight, metal doors, self-closing door mechanisms and round handles. Dumpsters should have latch closure lids, avoiding chains, hooks and bars, which bears can remove. She also said the bins should be bolted through cement.
Weyer said Baruch-Mordo’s suggestion that education materials should be distributed in Spanish is a good one. Often, workers at rental properties and construction sites may not understand the local laws concerning secured trash.
Weyer said the city has reached out to property management companies and hotels to have them educate their guests on local laws.
But Baruch-Mordo said as a frequent guest to Aspen, she has never been told about the laws or the city’s bear problem when staying at a hotel.
The city of Aspen is considered a model that other communities look to in developing their own laws, community safety officer Bobby Schafer said, based on feedback from a conference held last year in Montana.
“Aspen is light years ahead of everyone else,” he said.
Last year was an exceptionally bad bear season because of the drought, and CPW euthanized nine bears that had been habituated to human food sources between Aspen and Old Snowmass.
This year could be just as bad, given that snowpack is below average and natural food sources may not be abundant for the bruins.
“If they are hungry, they will come into town regardless,” Weyer said. “We are at the whim of the natural cycles of Mother Nature.”