Opinion: Help keep bears safe and wild | SteamboatToday.com

Opinion: Help keep bears safe and wild

Steamboat Springs residents and guests, our bears need your help. The city of Steamboat Springs is considering adopting an ordinance to require the use of Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee-certified trash cans, as well as bear-resistant dumpsters. Human-bear conflicts have been on the rise in Colorado since the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is now 2020, and we have not been able to prevent or reduce these conflicts here at home. 

Naturally, there are some concerns about adopting such an ordinance. I want to address some of these concerns and misconceptions because sadly, the resulting action in many of these conflicts is the death of a bear. As a wildlife officer, I am ultimately the person who pulls the trigger to kill a bear that has become a threat to public safety because of habituation to human supplied garbage.

The worst days of serving a resource that has no voice are the days when we must kill what we have promised to protect, often due to the behavior of humans. As a community, we are all responsible, and this ordinance is a crucial step forward to help protect our bears in Steamboat Springs.

Purchasing an IGBC-certified trash can does come with a cost. However, trash companies are taking notice of the issue and are working to make IGBC-certified cans affordable and practical. Fortunately, in Steamboat our trash haulers are coming to the table with ideas and solutions.

We have heard concerns from people who store their garbage in a garage and do not have a need for a bear-resistant container. While keeping trash stored in a closed garage can be an effective measure to prevent bears from getting trash rewards, the measure becomes ineffective on trash pickup day. The once protected can filled with attractants will be sitting curbside, unprotected and vulnerable, for up to 14 hours until it is picked up. Bears are smart, they learn when trash pickup days are, and they capitalize on the smorgasbord regularly.

Some folks may have never seen a bear or had issues with bears getting into trash in the past. Twenty to 30 years ago, bears were not regularly observed in the town of Steamboat, yet here they are today, on a daily basis throughout the spring and into early winter.

Ultimately, taking action in one area of town and not in the other would simply move the problem once bears discover where they can find unsecured trash. This is why it is necessary to secure all trash in Steamboat.

A question we often hear is how reliable are IGBC-certified bear resistant containers? They are reliable but not bear proof. They are designed to withstand the assault of a grizzly bear for one hour, which make them very effective against black bears, and that is exactly what we need.

There are still challenges ahead of us to minimize human-bear conflicts, but adopting this ordinance would be a tremendous first step. You have a voice, use it to give a voice to those who cannot speak and depend on you to keep them safe and wild. 

Kyle Bond is a Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager in Steamboat Springs.

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