Our view: Who’s afraid of the big bad bear? | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Who’s afraid of the big bad bear?

We’d like to be able to write that Steamboat Springs City Council took a bold step Tuesday toward ending the problem of bears that has plagued the city in recent years. But in a dramatic reversal of a 6-1 vote taken Jan. 20, Council retreated from an ordinance that would have required bear-proof trash receptacles for residents across Steamboat Springs. Instead, five council members changed their position on the first vote and settled instead for requiring only that owners of commercial dumpsters ensure they are bear-proof. Dumpster owners have until April 1 to get that done or face fines.

At least it’s a step in the right direction.

We believe that the larger goal of the community should look beyond clearing up a mere nuisance. Instead, we should focus on heading off a growing public safety issue by working to gradually reduce the number of bear cubs that are born in and around the city. We all know by now that those cubs are raised by their mothers to exploit the carelessness of humans. And every year, the number of bears that have become acclimated to urban life grows.

We also know that Steamboat’s bears are smarter than the average bear. Police believe some have even learned how to open the doors of unlocked Subarus. However, the real concern relates to the two bears Colorado Parks and Wildlife reluctantly euthanized as of late August 2014 after they entered homes. CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said that once a bear loses its fear of humans enough to enter a home, it will repeat that behavior. That in turn elevates the concern for public safety.

In downtown Aspen last July, where bear-proof residential trash receptacles are mandatory and fines for failing to have one are $250 for the first offense, a law enforcement officer was attacked and injured by a bear. When the inevitable happens in Steamboat, will City Council reconsider a more comprehensive ordinance?

In Old Town, the trail through Butcherknife Canyon links Old Town with the public schools in Strawberry Park. It’s also known as the Bear Highway. Are parents in Old Town comfortable with their 12-year-olds walking and riding their bikes through Butcherknife Canyon to the middle school?

We should say that we are dubious that any 80-gallon, vinyl, roll-away trash receptacle can be made truly bear-proof. Bear resistant might be a better term. We know anecdotally that large bears here have demonstrated the brute strength to overcome one-inch-square steel reinforcing bars on dumpster lids.

Does that mean it’s pointless to require that residential trash receptacles be made “bear-proof?” We don’t think so. Instead, we are obligated to do everything we can to discourage trash bears as part of an overall strategy to protect ourselves and the bears. And that includes removing the temptation for frustrated residents to “solve” their bear issues with violence.

We believe the reluctance to bear-proof trash receptacles here is driven by economics, and while understandable, that is disappointing.

Steamboat currently allows residents to place their trash on the street in non-”bear proof” containers at the curb only between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on pickup days.

Residents who care enough can ask their trash hauler to upgrade their rollaways for as little as $50. Should they notice a neighbor who habitually leaves their rollaway at the curb the night before trash day, they also have the option to anonymously report that to police.

However, we’d much prefer that after another summer of Steamboat’s bears growing increasingly bold, City Council revisit existing bear ordinances in Durango, Aspen and in the Vail area and reconsider its bear ordinances no later than August 2015.

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