Keeping The “Wild” In Wildlife
By: Kathleen Campbell
We in the Estes Valley depend upon visitors from around the world to sustain our economy and promote Estes Park as a great vacation destination. One of the many attractions these visitors come to see is our wildlife. Unfortunately, one of the larger animals in our ecosystem—the black bear–is becoming less than wild and more of a nuisance. Because the black bear has a nose 100 times more sensitive than a human’s, unsecured trash, bird feeders, food-encrusted grills, and outdoor pet food become bear catnip, habituating them to an easy and high-calorie food source and bringing them into close proximity with humans.
Some mountain communities, such as Aspen and Vail, have mandated that every homeowner and business must either lock up their trash or keep it indoors. But once a bear becomes used to feeding on garbage, it is less likely to be deterred by most types of bear-resistant receptacles and have to be removed or euthanized. According to the Aspen News online (October 16, 2009), there were three bear attacks on humans in Aspen homes in 2009. All three bears were killed, and, in total, the DOW put down 19 bears and trapped or relocated 30 more from Pitkin County. The City of Aspen recorded 713 bear complaints in 2009 (www.aspendailynews.com).
Black bears are not naturally aggressive and are very wary of people. However, a bear that is intent on getting a easy meal can possibly injure someone who gets in their way or closes off their escape route. You may remember that one of the deaths in Ouray County was a woman who was intentionally feeding bears and attracting them to her property. When she saw an adult bear taking food away from a younger bear, the woman tried to intervene and was attacked and killed. This is not normal black bear behavior.
Estes Park has not reached a critical point YET, but unless we all become “bear aware,” our problems will only become worse. I’m sure many of us remember the cinnamon-colored black bear that roamed Estes last summer, raiding dumpsters all over town. Rick Spowart, the DOW officer who serves our area, said he received hundreds of complaints from Estes and nearby area residents last year and had to euthanize one bear that broke into several occupied cabins on the YMCA property. Other bear break-ins to homes were reported on Riverside Drive. The old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies here!
According to Tony Rowley at Waste Management, businesses, apartments, and condo associations can rent bear-resistant commercial dumpsters from Waste Management for $5.00 extra per month. Businesses that do not produce food/beverage refuse should encourage their employees to separate their personal food/beverage waste from the business’ non-perishable waste and dispose of it in a bear-safe manner.
Another option that may work is to place a heavy chain over the commercial trash bin with a spring clip on one end and key lock at the other. This bin at Thatchtop condos has been in place for over two years. Although knocked over a couple of times by a bear, the garbage inside remained untouched.
Individual property owners can purchase wheeled bear-resistant trash containers from True Value Hardware as a special order. According to Bill Prohs, True Value Hardware Manager/Owner, these are available in two sizes, 95 gallon (around $280) and 64 gallon (around $240). Because they are heavy (about 30-40 lbs), Waste Management asks that you bag your trash before placing it in these receptacles. These containers have the Living With Wildlife Foundation’s highest rating—three stars (lwwf.org). This rating means that the product will remain intact and function for at least 60 minutes when attacked by a grizzly bear. You can view both sizes of receptacles outside True Value Hardware.
Tips for Your Trash
If possible, bag your trash before placing it in your trash receptacle to cut down on odors
Put trash out as close to the pick-up time as possible. Bears are starting to become active during the day as well.
If possible, freeze bits of food, meat, bones, or fruit until morning of pick-up
Clean trash containers frequently with either ammonia or a heavy-duty pine-scented cleaner. Do not use fruity or lemony scented products.
Never store trash on decks, porches, or in your vehicle.
If a bear has already been visiting your trash, you may need to build a bear-resistant enclosure (see DOW website).
Some people create their own bear-resistant trash receptacles, such as the one pictured below. The DOW cautions against sharp objects that might injure a bear or human (an injured bear may become a nuisance bear), but short nails on a plywood board and around the receptacle base will can act as a deterrent.
In addition, if you do create your own bear-resistant receptacle, you should check with Waste Management to make sure it meets their standards and not endanger their employees.
Visitors also can help us save our bears from a needless death by not putting their food/beverage trash in private trash bins. They should use the trash receptacles provided by the city downtown or pack their trash out. If taking food into the National Park or other wilderness areas, double bag it to reduce the smell and either use the Park’s bear-resistant trash receptacles or pack out your trash in a sealed bag. When camping or backpacking, consider purchasing a DAP No-Feed Bear food container for around $70 at hardware and/or outdoor stores.
For more information on all of these issues, please visit the DOW Colorado website www.wildlife.state.co.us/bears. Here you will find detailed handouts on all kinds of bear-related issues. In addition, they can provide you with a sticker (see below) for your trash receptacle.