Tougher trash ordinance from city would require more Steamboat residents to buy wildlife-proof containers |

Tougher trash ordinance from city would require more Steamboat residents to buy wildlife-proof containers

The aftermath of a bear's late-night dumpster-diving session was on full display this summer on Eaglepointe Court in Steamboat Springs.
Scott Franz

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The Steamboat Springs City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Citizens Hall at 124 10th St. Public comment is accepted at the time the agenda item is discussed. General public comment on items not on the agenda is accepted at 7 p.m. or at the end of the meeting, whichever comes first.

— Steamboat Springs residents who don’t already have bear-resistant trash containers soon could find themselves shopping for ones that are rated to withstand a 60-minute thrashing from the intelligent animals.

In an effort to reduce the conflicts between humans and black bears and other wildlife in Steamboat, the city is proposing to toughen up its regulations on trash containers.

The ordinance would require all residents to use an approved wildlife-resistant trash container outdoors regardless of what time they put out their trash to be collected.

It’s a big change from the current city rules that allow residents to put out containers that aren’t wildlife-resistant between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

But as the city and its residents have seen season after season, bears are known to indulge during those hours.

If the rules are passed, residents would have a selection of wildlife-resistant trash container options ranging in price from $50 for smaller containers to $350 for larger containers.

The city already has a list of approved receptacles, and more could be approved in the future.

A 20-gallon basic BEARicuda Bin on the city’s list sells online for $55 while a 90-gallon receptacle from World Safety Products sells for $353.

Steamboat Police Capt. Jerry Stabile said the city is hoping residents here also will have the option to pay to have their trash companies do a retrofit of their existing receptacles.

The new city rules would require commercial dumpsters to be secured with new lids. If a lid is breached, it would need to be replaced or fixed within 72 hours.

The city’s municipal court would set the fine schedule for infractions, and offenders could see their fines reduced if they comply and get the wildlife-resistant containers.

After a year during which three bears were hit by cars in the city and many more were the subject of more than 100 emergency calls, the city, trash collectors and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are hoping the new rules can lead to fewer problems with the animals and ultimately save their lives.

Stabile said “putting a lid” on the trash problem will help reduce conflicts with the animals. But he said it will take compliance from everyone to work.

“It really is everybody getting on the same page,” Stabile said. “Why is a bear going to pick little berries all day when he can go and get all the calories he needs in five minutes in a dumpster? Bears get frustrated, and they will not come back if they don’t get that reward. But if you have a street with 40 houses on it and 39 comply and the 40th doesn’t, that bear is probably going to stay around.”

The police department worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and local trash collection companies while it drafted the new ordinance.

Stabile even talked to the head of a bear awareness group in Durango that is working to prevent problems with bears there.

“Everybody thinks we’re on the right track with dealing with this problem, but it’s a cooperative effort from residents to the trash haulers to us enforcing to (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) feeding us information,” Stabile said.

The Steamboat Springs City Council will consider a first reading of the rules Tuesday night.

The proposed changes come after another busy bear season. The police department fielded 140 calls about bears in the city from March through November.

The calls ranged in nature from a pair of cubs getting stuck in a dumpster downtown to some bears that were trying to “poach” the hot tubs at The Pines condominiums.

In that case, trash containers that were not bear-proof at nearby Central Park Plaza were thought to be a factor in the bears’ choice for a new home.

The 140 calls this year amounted to more than double the 60 calls the department fielded during the same time last year, but far less than the 246 calls to the police department in 2012.

“The calls come and go with what’s going on, but over a five-year period, there’s a lot of calls, and it’s an issue we’ve got to deal with, and I think it’s a public safety issue,” City Council President Bart Kounovsky said.

Kounovsky said when he considers whether to approve the new trash rules Tuesday, he wants to make sure Steamboat is following the examples of other peer communities that have had success in reducing their bear problems.

In its presentation on the rules tomorrow, the city will provide examples of what other Colorado mountain towns have done to try to decrease human encounters with bears.

Kounovsky said he also wants to hear from Parks and Wildlife about what it is doing after bears do become problems in the city.

“When we have a bear that decides to hibernate under a deck of a hot tub in a condominium complex, is it removed from the community? Is it shooed away? We’ve got to tighten up what we do, but in my mind, we just can’t have bears living here in the city,” Kounovsky said.

To see the city’s proposed ordinance and its list of approved bear-proof trash receptacles, view the council agenda below.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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