Steamboat City Council learns about the challenges of managing black bears
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night got a crash course on bear management in Colorado and how things like wildlife Tasers could be used by officers in the future to haze problem bears.
On an evening the council gave final approval to tougher trash rules that aim to prevent bears from diving into local dumpsters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins briefed the council about the management of the bear population locally and statewide.
He said in Steamboat, officers are dealing with 15 to 30 bears each summer that want to live in town and chow down on high calorie leftovers regardless of how good the berries are out of town.
He said in recent years, sows here have given birth to as many as three cubs just because they are living in town and able to consistently get meals from garbage.
The cubs are ultimately destined to become future dumpster divers and learn bad habits from their parents.
“If we keep going the way we’re going, the population is going to increase,” he said.
Haskins also described a number of challenges with bears that go beyond local trash rules.
He said problem bears that are relocated from places like Boulder to this part of the state have shown up in North Routt County to cause more problems.
The realization earned a chuckle from council members and the audience, but Haskins’ broader message was serious and he talked about the many challenges wildlife managers face with bears.
One of the more pressing ones is officers do not have a good place to take problem bears that get into trouble in Steamboat.
“The problem we’re having right now is nobody wants our bears,” Haskins said.
Because of the challenges associated with relocating problem bears to places as far as Browns Park, Haskins said Parks and Wildlife is considering changing its current two-strike policy to one that would more quickly lead to destroying a problem bear.
In addition, he said wildlife managers in the state are testing out the use of wildlife Tasers and other non-lethal methods of hazing that could prove to be “game changers” and make bears less likely to approach places frequented by humans.
Haskins said the Tasers have been used successfully in places like Alaska and Louisiana.
“We tried it on moose in Walden this summer, and it was very effective,” he said.
He said it’s not a method he would use in the middle of Steamboat because it’s hard to predict where the bear will run following the jolt.
The effect of Tasers on wildlife was highlighted in a 2010 article in the Alaska Dispatch News that documented the efforts of a Fish and Game wildlife technician who turned to a Taser when he was being chased by an angry moose.
According to the article, blood samples from some moose hit by a Taser showed they returned to normal within 30 minutes of the shock, compared to the 24- to 48-hour recovery period of being drugged.
The wildlife technician also reported two brown bears hit with a Taser left a dump they were visiting and “showed a greater aversion to people after being zapped.”
Still, the short-term pain from the Tasers was cited as a concern, and the effectiveness of Tasers on wildlife are still being tested nationwide.
The more immediate efforts to curb bear problems here in Steamboat will focus on the newly approved trash rules.
The council gave final approval to new trash rules that will force more owners of commercial dumpsters to ensure the dumpsters are bear proof.
According to city staff, lids on commercial dumpsters can be retrofitted and made more bear-proof for as little as $18 to $24.
Steve Weinland, owner of Aces High Services, estimates the average cost to improve the dumpsters his company services will be more than $200.
City staff also plans to launch a public education campaign about trash rules leading up to the April 1 implementation of the new rules.
But Haskins warned that if the trash rules for residential and commercial trash cans aren’t strictly enforced, the efforts will likely be for naught.
“Resoundingly what we hear from our research and from other towns like ours in this state is that public education is useless,” Haskins told the council. “If you have good enforcement, it sinks in. But if there’s not a very dedicated and strong enforcement component, then pretty much everything you do is not effective.”
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