Wildlife encounters might be reduced with ordinances | SummitDaily.com

Wildlife encounters might be reduced with ordinances

SUMMIT COUNTY – Conflicts with wildlife – such as the one that forced the capture and destruction of a bear last week – can be reduced. But state wildlife officials say Summit County’s residents need to be committed to it.

Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury said the department’s officers throughout the state are spending most of their time dealing with bear calls. During this time of year, black bears will feed up to 20 hours a day in preparation for a winter of hibernation. Humans’ food and trash is nutritious and easy, Malmsbury said.

“If we’re going to live right smack-dab in bear habitat, it’s up to us to learn to coexist,” he said.

A Leadville woman checking on her parents’ home north of Silverthorne Wednesday discovered a bear inside the house. The house was in disarray, and the bear fled when she arrived. CDOW District Wildlife Manager Tom Kroening investigated the incident and determined the bear was initially attracted by a bird feeder and entered the house through a window left open for cats.

Because the bear had been tagged twice previously and recently had been relocated from Grand Lake to Summit County, Kroening had to trap the animal and destroy it.

Earlier this year, the state’s wildlife commission passed ordinances to help wildlife officers reduce the number of such incidents. But the ordinance is reactive, Malmsbury said. Officers can issue tickets that carry fines, but the action is limited to repeat offenders who’ve been warned their behavior is contributing to the wildlife problem.

“We can’t drive up and down the street to see if people have trash or a bird feeder out,” Malmsbury said. “The best thing is when communities and counties pass laws – they can be proactive.”

Snowmass Village has been a pioneer in this area. In 1994, the town passed the first ordinance in the state aimed at reducing wildlife conflicts. The ordinance was updated in 1999 to address specific issues, such as bird feeders or trash collection.

“One reason it passed is because it’s our community value to coexist,” said Laurie Smith, an animal services officer with the Snowmass Village Police Department. “The community backed this up. They didn’t want bears to be put down because we were leaving our trash out.”

Smith said reducing unpleasant animal encounters is an ongoing process. The law is eight years old, and in that time, she and other officers have tried to educate citizens and tourists about the dos and don’ts of living in prime bear habitat. While a good crop of berries and acorns have helped keep bears away from developed areas, Smith said the ordinance and education are beginning to have an effect: Bears move through the area because they’ve learned they won’t find food there.

“The town and community have to decide how they want to address the problem,” she said.

Pitkin County, Basalt and Aspen have passed similar ordinances.

Summit County citizens have been presented with this question before, County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said, but didn’t see it as a problem. Lindstrom said he recalled being part of a task force investigating the issue about a decade ago, but the group “found there was no support in the community – people felt it wasn’t necessary.”

“It depends on the year,” Lindstrom said. “Some are worse than others, and people’s level of concern probably follows that. Maybe it’s time to take another look.”

Last year, the town of Blue River passed ordinances requiring animal-proof trash containers and restricting residents to taking out trash on the day of pickup. Blue River Mayor Darcy Lystlund said the Sheriff’s Office Blue River deputy also has been helpful in patrolling and enforcing the ordinance. Bear encounters in Blue River have been minimal compared to previous years, Lystlund said.

The problem with ordinances, Lindstrom pointed out, is that governments can’t legislate responsibility.

“If you can create an opportunity for people to be more responsible, then you might reduce the number of encounters,” Lindstrom said. “I agree, maybe it’s something that should be done.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.

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