Bear rifles through residential trash in Breckenridge, prompting reminders that trash kills

To reduce chances of encounters with bears, residents should only put trash on the curb the day of pickup

Summit County Bear Aware/Courtesy photos
A black bear rifled through trash in a residential neighborhood in Breckenridge on Sunday, May 28, 2023.
Summit County Bear Aware/Courtesy photos

A bear rifling through trash Sunday, May 28, prompted a call to Breckenridge Police Department, which spurred reminders that garbage can kill wildlife.

Around 5:15 p.m., Breckenridge Community Service Officers responded to Briar Rose Lane where they discovered the black bear near the overturned trash container, according to sergeant Tyler Stonum.

“The big deal for us is really protecting the bear,” Stonum said.

Bears eating from human garbage can be hurt when they consume unsafe materials such as plastic or metal, Stonum said. Moreover, allowing wildlife easy access to trash or food can attract bears into human developments, increasing the chances of potentially dangerous encounters, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

That’s why Breckenridge and many local municipalities have town ordinances requiring garbage to be stored in receptacles inside the home, garage, shed or other building. Like most other towns, Breckenridge’s ordinance also requires that garbage only be placed at curbsides between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on the day of trash pickup. 

One study found that only putting trash out on the morning of pickup cuts the chances of bear visits from 70% to just 2%, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Gale Marshall, who since 1998 has been giving safety talks with the volunteer group Summit County Bear Aware, noted that humans have built their homes in habitats where bears have roamed for thousands of years.

“This is where they live. We want to enjoy the area, too, so we just have to try and learn and live with one another and live safely with one another,” Marshall said.

Summit County Bear Aware helps Colorado Parks and Wildlife teach the public how to live safely with bears, Marshall said, noting that the volunteer program began because the community was having a lot of issues with bears.

While Marshall said she has seen the community become more conscious of bears since the Summit County Bear Aware program was established, Colorado Parks and Wildlife notes that encounters with bears are on the rise as the state’s population has risen.

Black bears are “curious, smart and very adaptable,” according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website, and want to get the most energy possible with the least amount of effort. Every bear’s goal is to get fat enough to be able to survive through their winter hibernation and will eat just about anything to do that, the website states.

Most conflicts with bears can be traced to human food, garbage, pet food or bird seed that is easily accessed, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. When people allow bears to find food, their natural drive to eat can overcome their wariness of humans, and bears that get too comfortable around people can become a threat to human safety and may need to be killed.

“Please don’t let bears die needlessly,” the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website states.

Summit County Bear Aware/Courtesy photo
Breckenridge police scared this bear off May 28, 2023, after it broke into a garbage can in a residential area.
Summit County Bear Aware/Courtesy photo

The Breckenridge officers who responded to the bear Sunday scared it off with loud noises and movement, Stonum said. That typically is enough to get the bear to move on and hopefully not return to the area, he said. But, if the bear doesn’t get the hint, the police department can also fire beanbag rounds from a shotgun or shoot them with a rubber buckshot. 

The homeowner likely received a warning about the incident, Stonum said. Breckenridge’s town ordinance also includes potential fines for repeat offenders with a fine between $20 and $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for each offense after.

Marshall noted that when bears do get into the local neighborhoods, neighbors will notice and may feel the need to hold each other accountable.

“Your neighbors will tell on you, by the way,” she said. “People will drive by and see.”

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