Can bears be kept away from humans?
VAIL – After four years, 408 warnings, 13 citations and several dead bears, the Town Council may stiffen Vail’s wildlife protection law.The ordinance, passed in August 2002, punishes residents who set out garbage before collection day or create other feeding opportunities for wildlife. Officials can fine violators or require them to purchase trash containers that are harder for animals to get into.Officials said it may be necessary to strengthen the town’s ordinance after all the attention Vail’s garbage cans have attracted from bears this summer. “We feel like we’ve done a good job sending the educational message,” Vail police Commander Steve Wright said. “Now we intend to step up our enforcement actions.”Stronger punishment
Currently, the first offense – such as setting your trash out before pick-up days – draws a warning. Following violations may bring a fine of up to $999 or up to 180 days in jail. The council is considering eliminating the warning and heading straight to punishment.”If you get a warning, it’s too late,” said Councilman Greg Moffet, who had a bear break into his house in West Vail earlier this year. “We need to get ahead of the problem. If we can keep a bear from acquiring a taste for human food, he’ll walk back into the woods and we’ll have accomplished something.” Bill Andree of the Colorado Department of Wildlife, who pushed for stronger ordinances in 1985 and 2002, said a stiffer law is overdue.”You get a ticket for fishing without a license or speeding down the highway, but not for leaving your trash out,” he said. “I had to kill a bear because of it.”What kind of container?Under the current ordinance, officers can require offenders to install bear resistant or bear-proof trash cans to prevent future problems.
The council may decide to require bear-resistant containers just for commercial collection centers such as condos, restaurants and construction sites – or for all citizens. “If bear-resistant containers are written into the ordinance, police wouldn’t be the bad guys anymore by making people buy $400 trash cans,” Councilman Farrow Hitt said.Requiring wildlife-resistant receptacles could be costly, but Andree said it’s worth it.Black bears can easily reach 600 to 800 pounds by fall, about the same size as a grizzly, Andree said. A bear that big would be as strong as the entire council working together to pry open a trash can, so citizens would be better off with a bear-proof – rather than bear-resistant – container. Preventive measure
Council will discuss the issue at the first meeting in August. Ideally, the council wants to prevent bears from acquiring a taste for human food in the first place, Moffet said. Councilman Mark Gordon said he hopes the council’s decision will at least keep bear interaction at a minimum in the future. “Bears are a fact of life in Vail,” Gordon said. “We want to be able to say we’ve done everything we can do to prevent a horrible inevitability from happening.”Brooke Bates can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgVail, Colorado