Wildlife officials report some progress on bear issue but challenges remain
Steamboat Springs — Mauled trash cans, tricky relocation operations and a report of a bear taking a ride in a garbage truck are fresh signs Steamboat Springs still has room to improve when it comes to keeping local wildlife out of garbage and trouble.
As the bears return to their dens for the winter, wildlife officials said local residents and businesses made some significant progress to protect the animals in the wake of some rule changes.
The city of Steamboat Springs replaced its outdoor trash cans with new bear-proof models and focused on making sure commercial dumpsters were secure.
City code enforcement officers issued more tickets to people and businesses that did not follow the trash rules.
And the owner of a welding shop took it upon himself to try and create a new device that people could buy to bear-proof their existing trash cans.
But there were plenty of people who didn’t follow the rules, and officers continued to see bears getting into trash and trouble.
“I guess we’ve made some progress but not the kind of progress we would have liked to have seen, and the residential trash is still a huge problem,” area wildlife manager Jim Haskins said Friday as he reflected on another bear season. “There’s still some misunderstanding.”
Haskins said he noticed several residents were making more of an effort to keep wildlife out of trouble but with limited results.
He said some residents used such things as cam straps in an attempt to bear-proof their garbage cans, but their efforts were often not effective.
“They are trying, but (cam straps) are not effective when a bear really wants to get into a trash can,” Haskins said.
Haskins added it was a busy summer for wildlife officers, and some of the increased bear traffic could have been caused by natural food shortages in Routt County.
The Steamboat Springs City Council in January passed on an ordinance that would have required residents to buy beefy bear-proof trash cans that can cost $250 or more apiece.
The issue of bears getting into trash and homes in the city limits continues to have consequences.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said wildlife officers this year have relocated seven problem bears and euthanized six in the wildlife area that includes Steamboat.
“It’s unfortunate that this happens,” Porras said. “It’s the worst part of a wildlife officer’s job.”
One bear not included in those statistics reportedly got lifted into a garbage truck when it was chowing down on trash in an unsecured dumpster behind Subway in Central Park Plaza.
Haskins said shortly after the bear was loaded into the truck, wildlife officers received a report that people were skinning a dead bear on the side of U.S. Highway 40.
The connection hasn’t been confirmed, but Haskins said he believes the bear could have taken a fall from the dump truck on the highway.
He said the trash haulers became aware the bear was inside, but did not remove it.
Officers also recently had to tranquilize and relocate an aggressive sow and her two cubs that were frequenting the Old Town area.
Wildlife officer Andrea Sponseller said seeing the city replace its own trash cans with bear-resistant models was one of the biggest steps toward improvement.
“It’s been good for people to see the city make positive steps and leading by example,” she said. “I know there are also a number of private landowners who bought bear-resistant trash cans.”
However, she said there is still some confusion in the community about what cans are actually bear-resistant.
“It’s going to take a little while to get everyone on the same page,” she said. “This is not something that’s going to be a quick fix. As long as we continue the dialogue and keep trying, it’s a worthy cause.”
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