The city of Boulder last year issued 885 citations for violations to its bear-safe trash law, resulting in more than $250,000 in fines.
So, how does Durango compare?
In 2016, the city of Durango issued 16 violations, only two of which resulted in a $50 penalty, for a total of $100.
In the county, the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office issued about 50 warnings to residents for unsecured trash cans that were raided by bears but levied no fines.
“We just didn’t have much bear activity this year,” said Lt. Sam Eggleston.
The comparison isn’t completely fair, said Bear Smart Durango’s Bryan Peterson, as Boulder is much more populated. Yet, Peterson said Boulder likely had the same type of bear season as Durango, the only difference being the level of enforcement. He said it’s worth looking at both cities’ approach as urban development interplays with wildlife.
“Bear managers and researchers cite human foods made available to bears as being the leading cause of human-and-bear conflicts,” Peterson said. “Knowing this, it would seem clear that we do whatever possible in keeping trash from bears, and making this a priority in order to reduce human-bear conflict in the community.”
In Boulder, the City Council in 2016 enacted a no-warning approach to any homes or businesses west of Broadway – an area of high bear activity – for failing to properly secure bear-resistant trash cans.
“The community sentiment (after four bears were killed in 2013) was we weren’t doing enough with enforcement,” said Valerie Matheson, Boulder’s urban wildlife conservation coordinator. “The city already had a wildlife ordinance in place, but once residents objected, they went back and strengthened the language and started diligently enforcing it.”
Last year, Boulder’s three code enforcement officers proactively enforced the law, which says residents can leave trash out only on the morning of pickup, and they must have a bear-resistant can.
Violators were fined $250 for the first infraction, $500 the second time and $1,000 for every time after. Despite the expected backlash from some residents, especially the transient college crowd, Matheson said the no-tolerance policy has gotten people’s attention and behaviors have changed. And, she said, there were no bear euthanizations or relocations in 2016.
“We’ve seen a tremendous difference, both from monitoring and anecdotally from residents living in the area,” Matheson said. “And it’s worked great, not only preventing bears from getting in trash but also improving the overall cleanliness of the city.”
Still, Matheson said code enforcement has asked city councilors to allow officers to issue warnings so they can use discretion in certain situations.
“Although one year certainly can’t quantify a level of success, in an area of Boulder that has been monitored for five years, bear-strewn trash had been reduced by 96 percent following these efforts,” Peterson said.
In Durango, city code says trash cans cannot be placed on the street prior to 6 a.m. on the morning of pickup, and after the first infraction, residents must either securely store trash or lease a bear-proof can. First-time violators are given a warning notice, then penalized $50 for the second violation and $100 for the third violation.
In 2015, for a comparison, there were 161 notices of violations, 22 fines for $50 each, and eight three-time violators carrying the $100 fine. “We definitely had a huge dropoff,” said code enforcement officer Steve Barkley, pointing to the good natural food year in the San Juan Mountains, as well as more residents voluntarily embracing bear-proof trash cans.
Barkley said the city’s two code enforcement officers respond on a complaint basis rather than doing proactive enforcement. He said the two fines written this year occurred at residences near U.S. Highway 160, near the Best Western, and north of 21st Street.
Eggleston, too, said the Sheriff’s Office would rather educate residents to change their behavior than issue fines. While bear activity was slow in 2016, that doesn’t mean the problem is solved. “It comes in phases,” Eggleston said. “We have a couple good years where bears stay out of town, then people forget, and we have to nudge them back into compliance.”
In 2016, Colorado Parks and Wildlife killed four bears: a sow and two yearlings that destroyed property in Durango Hills in June, and a 209 pound adult male that killed a miniature horse that was left overnight in an open corral near Junction Creek Road in August.