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Snowmass Village sets bear bar

Nicole Frey
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times file photoSnowmass was among the first mountain towns to require residents to store trash in bear-resistant garbage cans or in sheds.
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SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” When the population boomed in the Roaring Fork Valley in the early 1990s, bear calls went up. While homes and ski areas were built in the heart of bear country, the predator’s natural food supply of oak, acorn and berries disappeared, replaced by trash.

“Bears are very adaptable,” said Tina White with the Snowmass Village Police Department and Animal Services. “They learned there was a lot of great food down here. The bears were not willing to move on. They’re like large raccoons. They’re opportunistic.

People coming into the Roaring Fork Valley weren’t bear smart, White said.

“The bears were staying in yards, and people thought it was cute at first ” some people were even feeding them,” White said. “Then they start complaining because they won’t go away. Then it wasn’t so cute.”

Snowmass Village passed its first trash ordinance in 1993, but it didn’t have a lot of teeth and did little to improve the situation, White said. Snowmass animal services officers spent their times chasing bears but couldn’t write tickets.

“It was just getting ridiculous,” she said. “We couldn’t do much.”

In 1998, the Colorado Division of Wildlife had to put down several bears, including a sow and her cubs, said spokesman Randy Hampton.

Killing babies woke up Snowmass Village.

“The town had had it,” White said. “Some of the residents were really embarrassed and really upset.”

The town council approved a tougher law imposing fines for people who left their trash out up to $500 and police started an aggressive educational campaign, including teaching at schools, contacting new residents, displaying posters in English and Spanish and setting up booths at public gatherings to pass out information, magnets and key chains.

“Snowmass Village was kind of the frontrunner nationwide for trash ordinances and handling black bears,” Hampton said. “It’s not perfect. We still deal with bears in Snowmass Village, but it’s better.”

In addition to keeping trash inside, the law required bear-resistant containers or sheds for people who couldn’t keep trash inside. Bear calls plummeted, along with other wildlife calls. White said she hasn’t gotten a single raccoon call this year.

“As people began to understand the issues we’re up against in Snowmass Village, there were people who became motivated to do something,” Hampton said. “We almost came to that in Vail this year.”

After euthanizing a sow in West Vail and sending her cubs off to rehab, Hampton said the Eagle Valley is heading down the same path as the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Vail’s been booming for a while, but now we’re seeing people come off the valley floor and up the hillsides, into the bears’ habitat,” Hampton said. “But we’re very pleased with the direction things are moving up there in Eagle County. You’ve got people talking about bears, talking about what can be done.”

But even with all the proper bear proofing in place, bears may still wander into towns, especially during a dry year, which limits their natural food supply.

“Even with a good ordinance, there’s just going to be that bear who moves in from wherever,” White said. “It’s just sad.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or nfrey@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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