Our view: City needs to bear down on problem
The problem of bears getting into trash in Steamboat remains.
City Council needs to get serious about addressing this issue through strict enforcement of the existing ordinance or by adopting a new, tougher law.
The bears are back in town, and we don’t think the problem stands a chance of improving unless the Steamboat Springs City Council takes definitive action to either strictly enforce the existing trash ordinance or give it more teeth by requiring everyone to have bear-resistant trash cans.
The increased presence of bears looking for their next meal in unsecured trash receptacles throughout Steamboat poses a serious public safety hazard, which could lead to more human-bear encounters in town and the potential for serious injury and the euthanization of more bears.
During a work session Tuesday night, the council discussed bear issues and the idea of bear-resistant trash cans, which we saw as an encouraging sign that this council is taking the issue seriously.
The city’s current wildlife-resistant trash container ordinance, which was adopted last year, makes it mandatory for commercial properties to use an approved wildlife-resistant trash container at all times when the receptacle is outdoors.
For residential properties, the guidelines have not changed since 2005. The existing ordinance mandates that residents store their refuse containers indoors at all times except between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on trash pick-up days. Residents who keep their trash outside must have it secured in wildlife-resistant trash containers.
First-time violators are fined $100, but offenders can have the fine waived if they show proof of purchase of a wildlife-proof trash container. For the second offense, violators are fined $150, which can be reduced if the offenders prove they’ve purchase a bear-proof container, and on the third offense, violators are ordered to purchase a bear-proof container and can be fined up to $1,000.
Last year, the City Council reversed an initial vote on an ordinance that would have required bear-proof trash containers for all city residents due to concerns over cost. Instead, the council tweaked the ordinance to require only commercial properties to use bear-proof trash receptacles and pledged to step up enforcement of existing rules during the summer months.
According to articles in Steamboat Today, the number of warnings police officers issued last summer concerning trash ordinance violations increased significantly, but only a handful of actual tickets were written.
Now, the bears have returned, and they’re getting bolder, which puts the issue firmly back on the council’s plate. We don’t think last summer’s approach worked, so we’re urging the council to take a different tack.
In 2005, after adopting the ordinance that requires residents to use a wildlife-proof container if they put their trash out before 6 a.m. or leave it out after 8 p.m. on trash pick-up days, the city focused on enforcing the new rules. The police designated an officer to follow the trash routes and document those who had their trash out before 6 a.m. or left it out after 8 p.m. on trash pick-up days. Later in the day, officers contacted the violators and issued tickets. According to a May 4, 2005, article in Steamboat Today, 52 people were ticketed during that enforcement effort, and as a result, more than 200 wildlife-proof containers were ordered by residents following the campaign.
The city remains obligated to do everything it can to discourage bears from getting into trash, and we think the solution lies first in strict enforcement of city ordinances. This means tickets and fines, like in 2005, not warnings, like in 2015.
And if City Council members won’t call for stronger enforcement of existing laws, then it’s their responsibility to come up with a new ordinance that requires everyone to store their trash in bear-proof containers.
We’d also like to applaud Steamboat’s trash providers, which as of last week, are now able to offer bear-resistant containers to their customers. We also appreciate the ingenuity of local welder Rollin Stone who has created a bear-proof container that can withstand an assault from a 600-pound Grizzly bear and could potentially be sold for less than those offered by the trash haulers.
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