For bears, trash left out can have deadly consequences. For humans, however, the penalty in Summit County is typically an educational warning.
In mid-July, an injured bear known to Breckenridge police as the “Carter Park bear” was shot and killed by an officer after the bear was reported to be scavenging through trash outside a home on High Point Drive.
Officials who enforce the town and county codes on trash disposal generally focus on educating people instead of giving them citations or fines.
On the county level, planning manager Lindsay Hirsh said a code enforcement officer responds to complaints about trash violations. The officer contacts the property owners and gives them a set amount of time to correct the situation. If they don’t, the county attorney’s office gets involved, Hirsh said, but that is rare.
“The trash issue is really not that big of a issue for us,” he said.
In Breckenridge, police officers go around checking for trash compliance, and they give out one warning before violators receive a citation, said spokeswoman Colleen Goettelman.
She said officers recheck the places where they leave warnings to make sure people aren’t continuing to break the town code.
“They definitely have an eye on violators,” she said.
Police Chief Shannon Haynes said the department decided last year that it wasn’t getting enough compliance. Officers started giving out citations at times when before they would give warnings, like when people put their trash out the night before collection day.
Last year, the department gave out seven citations. The people who receive them then appear in municipal court, where Judge Buck Allen can penalize the offender with a fine between $0 and $2,650.
Allen said first offenders receive a $400 to $500 fine, but they end up paying only $50 because he suspends the rest on the condition that the individual has no similar violations in the next year.
“I tell them, ‘Look, the bear doesn’t get a second chance, so you’re going to be on the same footing,’” he said, adding that second-time offenders pay more. “We’re not going to put you down or anything. You’ll have significant fines.”
‘YOU HAVE TO GIVE PEOPLE A CHANCE’
No one in the community wants to see bears euthanized, he said, but trash compliance can be hard to enforce.
He said the biggest problems come from property management companies who let trash violations slide and from vacationers in town for a week or so who don’t understand the rules and forget to latch receptacles or leave trash out for a couple days.
“You don’t want to see the bears put down,” he said, “but you have to give people a chance to know what the laws are.”
Allen has been fining people for violating trash rules for more than 10 years, and he said he has never seen a second-time offender.
In Frisco, a code enforcement officer looks for trash-related violations and works to educate property owners on the importance of securing their trash and other things that could attract wildlife.
Brodie Boilard, the town’s public information officer, said that the officer gives the property owners, renters or vacationers a warning if the incident is a first offense. The second offense is a citation and a $50 fine, while a third offense costs $100.
In Dillon, Police Chief Mark Heminghous said the town doesn’t get many trash compliance calls.
“It’s not something that’s really a priority for us,” he said.
Response from the police department is complaint-driven, he said, and trash calls aren’t tracked when they come through the county dispatch center because they’re categorized as general ordinance violations.
Heminghous noted that one officer spotted a bear a few times this summer but it hasn’t been seen in weeks.
Residents should remember the Colorado Parks and Wildlife two-strike policy for bears found digging in trash, said Mike Porras, regional spokesman for the state agency.
Bears found in trash or too close to humans are first tranquilized, trapped, tagged and relocated; the second time a bear becomes an issue it is killed. Bears who are aggressive or show no fear of humans may be put down immediately, an exception to the two-strike rule.
“A fed bear is a dead bear,” he said, and people who allow wildlife access to trash and food are essentially killing the animal.
“We will act to protect human health and safety, and unfortunately that does result in the death of a bear,” he said. For wildlife officers, “it is the worst part of their job. It is something they thoroughly do not enjoy.”
Conflicts between bears and humans peak between August and December, he said, when bears prepare for the winter and are especially voracious.
“We haven’t really gotten into the thick of our bear activity yet. That’s coming,” he said. “We have a long ways to go before bears will hibernate.”
Back in Breckenridge, Haynes said the police received another bear call Thursday.
Residents or visitors with questions on trash rules can always call the police department, she said, which will gladly send a community service officer out to make sure the caller’s trash is compliant.
For wildlife officers, killing a bear “is the worst part of their job. It is something they thoroughly do not enjoy.”