Vail cops step up trash enforcement
VAIL ” Wildlife law violations, once a rarity in Vail, have spiked since police last month began cracking down on people and businesses leaving out trash that can lure hungry bears into town.
Numbers tell the story. In over two years since Vail adopted a wildlife ordinance to stop the flow of trash available to wildlife, Vail police issued 13 summons for violating the law.
The Vail Town council passed an emergency ordinance July 11 making first-time offenders pay fines for violations. Police subsequently stepped up enforcement, and 17 tickets have been issued in just over a month.
“We were taking the kindlier, gentler approach,” said Dwight Henninger, Vail police Chief.
Still, bear-human conflicts are down from over 300 when the wildlife ordinance was adopted to 66 so far this year, Henninger said.
This summer, two adult bears lured into Vail by trash began entering homes in search of food. The bears, deemed dangerous to humans by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, were killed.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday considered but delayed a final vote on a law requiring residents to purchase wildlife-resistant trash cans.
The tickets issued between July 11 and Aug. 15 represent a cross section of potential problem areas. Violations happened at a restaurant, homes, a condominium complex, construction sites and a commercial building. Each place can fall under a different section of the wildlife law, Henninger said.
Condo-type buildings must store trash in a manner that doesn’t attract wildlife, Henninger said. Construction sites must have separate trash containers for food and other waste, store trash in a bear-proof can or remove food waste every night, Henninger said.
Residents must follow the dawn to dusk rule, which states trash can only be left at the curb on trash day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. And commercial buildings must keep animals from either intentionally or unintentionally feeding on garbage, Henninger said.
Two people have pleaded guilty to wildlife violations in Vail Municipal Court since July 1, days before the increased enforcement began.
A restaurant was fined $950 and paid just $250 while a resident got fined $500 and forked over $100, said Court Administrator Linda Moore. In both cases, the leftover fines don’t have to be paid unless there is a similar violation within a year, Moore said.
Several other wildlife cases are pending in municipal court. So far, residents haven’t complained about the increased policing, Henninger said.
“I think we’ve done a great job of education between the police department and newspaper,” he said. “Now we’re down to the people who don’t choose to pay attention or don’t care.”
Police are focusing on the entire town, not specific areas, Henninger said.
“We would much rather people purchase or rent bear-proof or bear-resistant containers to prevent bears from feeding on human trash,” he said. “The whole idea is we live here in a great place and we should be respectful of what nature provides. The bears were here first.”
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or email@example.com.