Fewer bears may wander Durango’s streets this summer to forage for food after hundreds of new wildlife-resistant garbage cans are distributed to homes.
The city expects to distribute the new cans in two phases this year and next year to areas identified as hot spots for bears by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife study, City Operations Director Levi Lloyd told the Durango City Council at a work session Tuesday.
“We are going to make a significant impact on the amount of calls we are getting,” he said.
Residents who receive the cans will have $4 added to their monthly utility bill for the next 4½ years to pay back the cost of the $220 can.
Bear-strewn trash was a serious problem in the city this fall because a late spring frost killed many natural food sources, such as berries and nuts.
The city, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Bear Smart received 985 reports related to bears and trash in 2017, Bear Smart Executive Director Bryan Peterson said in an email.
City Council eliminated warnings for those found with bear-strewn trash in September and instituted immediate $100 fines as part of an emergency ordinance aimed at preventing a serious human-bear incident.
CPW’s study found bears learn to avoid areas where food is not readily available. So council plans to make the new wildlife cans mandatory in two neighborhoods prone to bear problems through a new ordinance it could vote on in March.
The city plans to distribute 600 new cans to homes south of east Seventh Street by May 1. The western boundary of distribution will be East Second Avenue and the eastern boundary will be East Ninth Avenue. The city expects to spend $164,000 on the cans.
In 2019, the area west of north Main from 17th to 36th street will receive 500 cans, which will cost about $137,000.
About 48 percent of city residences have bear-proof cans currently, and once the city completes phasing in the new cans, about 70 percent of all residences will have bear-proof cans. Most other homes have a storage area for trash, such as a garage, Lloyd said. The city plans to distribute wildlife-resistant cans to newly built homes, such as those in Three Springs and Twin Buttes going forward, he said.
The city also ordered 200 additional cans to distribute to people who request one or are required to get one after a bear raids their trash.
The city is setting aside about $23,000 for wildlife-resistant dumpster lids and locks for commercial dumpsters. The money could be used this year or next year.
As part of the new ordinance, the city may also change how it fines residents. Councilors expressed support to eliminate a formal fine and replace it with a requirement that residents get a bear-proof can from the city. Residents would pay a $100 delivery fee for the can, which would be added to their bill. The fee would help the city recover the cost of the cans. In the past, fines went back into the city general fund.
The new ordinance could also change how businesses are fined for bear-strewn trash. Rather than a flat $100 fine for the first offense, it could be based on the size of the garbage can or dumpster, Mayor Dick White suggested.
Before enacting the new ordinance, the city plans to pass another extension of its emergency ordinance that was set to expire March 16.
“The message is getting out. ... This is a problem that won’t be tolerated,” Councilor Dean Brookie said.