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Manitou Springs may require residents to be 'bear smart' with trash

September 11, 2017 Updated: September 11, 2017 at 11:29 pm
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A bear ambles up Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs on June 14, 2017. City officials might institute a policy requiring residents to store their trash indoors until collection day or in bear-resistant containers to discourage the animals from wandering into urban areas. Photo courtesy of Nancy Wilson.

Manitou Springs might enact a policy to keep residents' trash cans upright and local bears out of them, forcing the bruins to munch instead on nuts, berries and other natural fare. The City Council asked the staff at a Sept. 5 meeting to draft a "Bear Smart" ordinance that likely would require residents to keep their trash indoors until collection day or store it in a wildlife-proof bin.

Proponents say the measure would protect residents from scavenging wildlife, prevent bears from becoming too familiar with urban areas and save more of the animals from being euthanized because they are habituated to humans.

"We want to keep bears and people safe," said Nancy Wilson, an organizer with the grassroots Bear Smart Task Force, which proposed the policy. "Most people are responsible in securing their trash, but some people don't realize how important it is."

The laws have been adopted by several of Colorado's mountain cities and towns, including Boulder, Aspen and Crested Butte.

Penalties for violating the ordinances vary, from warnings to fines of up to $1,000. In some places, a repeat offender might receive a court summons or be subject to jail time, according to the task force.

A trash container raided by wildlife in July on Pilot Knob Avenue in Manitou Springs. The city's code enforcement officer often receives calls about overturned garbage bins ransacked by bears and other animals, such as raccoons. Photo courtesy of Nancy Wilson. 

Colorado Springs also is looking into a similar policy for areas on the city's West Side, such as Cheyenne Cañon, where bear encounters are common. The staff has been directed to research potential ordinances, said Richard Skorman, president of the Colorado Springs City Council.

Waste disposal companies don't favor wildlife-proof bins, though, because the containers take more time to empty, creating more work for trash haulers, Skorman said.

And, for residents of Manitou Springs who don't have a garage or other secure area to store waste, the special bins could cost at least $200, although advocates with the task force said they hope Manitou will offer financial help by pursuing grants to pay for the containers, working with a manufacturer for discounted rates or subsidizing the bins in another way, Wilson said.

The proposal comes two months after a black bear ransacked a kitchen at a Broadmoor Bluffs home and later had to be put down. The same bear was spotted days earlier, snacking on M&Ms and ice cream swiped from a nearby garage and caught on camera by a panicked homeowner. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers were forced to euthanize another bear in Manitou Springs after it became a public safety hazard, said Bill Vogrin, a spokesman for the agency's southeast region.

The ordinance also might cut down on the time city officials spend responding to calls about overturned trash cans, said Cy Cushenberry, Manitou Springs' code enforcement officer. From early July to early September, he said, he received about 100 complaints regarding rubbish strewn about by bears and other animals such as raccoons.

"At least 45 minutes, maybe more than an hour of my day, is filled with these types of calls," Cushenberry said. "It seems to be a waste of resources."

The Pikes Peak region saw an uptick in bear activity this year after a late freeze killed blooms on plants that produce acorns and other natural bear fodder, said Julie Stiver, a wildlife biologist at Parks and Wildlife's Colorado Springs office. Such "food failure" years often force bears into urban areas, where they dine on high-calorie human eats.

"If a bear can get into a trash can and get food, he receives a reward. He's going to continue to go back to that area," Stiver said. "What we're trying to do is prevent them from having that food reward, so they have to look elsewhere."

In Durango, the bins have reduced human-bear conflicts. As part of a 2013 Parks and Wildlife study, more than 1,100 bear-resistant cans were distributed to residents in two areas of that city. The containers reduced residents' issues with the animals by about half, compared with neighborhoods where residents were not given the bins, Striver said. A survey of residents who received the cans also found that the trial period had a positive impact on their perception of local wildlife management and bear-safe policies.

The Manitou Springs City Council might not take up the ordinance for a first reading until next year, said City Administrator Jason Wells.

Mayor Nicole Nicoletta commended the task force for its proposal, which has been in the works since 2015. She said wildlife-proof bins aren't the only way to keep bears out of trash cans, though. The city also is considering other solutions, such as a compost system that would cut back on food scraps in residents' garbage bins, she said.

"There are a variety of inexpensive ways that we can deal with this," she said. "We'll see where it goes. The conversation is not over. Nothing is set in stone."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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