BSD Letter to City Council_3/2010




P.O. Box 2291

Durango, Colorado 81302

Telephone: (970) 749-4262



March 19, 2010


City of Durango, City Council

Mayor Leigh Meigs, Mayor Pro Tem Michael Rendon, Councilors Doug Lyon, Christina Rinderle Thompson, Paul Broderick

949 E. 2nd Avenue

Durango, CO 81301


Roy Petersen, Dir. General Services

Ron Leblanc, City Manager

City of Durango

949 E. 2nd Avenue

Durango, CO 81301



RE: Proposed Revisions to City Bear & Trash Policy


Dear City Council, Mr. Petersen and Mr. LeBlanc,


Problems with black bears typically begin in bad natural food years, when bears walking amidst our urban environments locate human foods. Bears are curious, intelligent, quick learners, focused on the immediate and focused on food foraging. They have great memories for locations of food sources, both in the wild and in urban areas where people live.


Bears are typically wary and avoid people at all cost, but bears allowed to frequent residential areas and find food within communities become desensitized, or habituated, to people and conditioned to receiving food rewards. Lynn Rogers, biologist with the American Bear Center in Ely, MN, defines habituation as “a waning response to people” and food-conditioned as “expecting food in certain situations or locations.”


These habituated and food-conditioned bears can come to prefer human foods to their natural food sources, even including urban areas into their daily food travel routines.


“Once (bears) figure out these places have that kind of food … it really doesn’t take them long to start utilizing those environments… They’re probably wary of coming into town, but as they get more used to it they become more comfortable. They’re trying to figure out a strategy that minimizes energy expenditure and maximizes gain.”  – Stewart Breck, carnivore ecologist at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, 2006


“We have two generations of bears that have figured out they can make a much better living off human food.” – Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), 2009


“So when that becomes their sole drive, they’re going to go where they can get food easily. Unfortunately, bears have learned that towns are where they can get food easily.” – Randy Hampton, CDOW spokesman, 2007


As bears become accustomed to accessing human foods, they continue frequenting urban, residential areas even in years with abundances of natural foods.


“When there’s a bad forage year, you’d expect bears to come down to town. This year, there’s plenty of berry and other forage for the bears to eat, and they are still in our areas.” – Brad Coors, Colorado Wildlife Commission chairman, The Denver Post, 2009


We have bears in town because we have lured them into the community with foods, trained them that accessing those foods is acceptable, done little to remove foods that attract them, and done little to discourage troublesome bear behavior – then we punish bears with lethal measures for “unwanted” behavior we developed and encouraged.


Bears used to being around people and their food, and associate people with food, are far more likely to become “nuisance” animals that cause property damage, damage fruit trees, injure or kill pets and livestock, become vehicle and home break-in experts, and become more aggressive in efforts to obtain more food. Far more so than wild bears, these emboldened bears become a public safety concern.


“Any time humans and bears encounter each other, especially around a food source, the potential for danger is there, and that’s what we’re really trying to avoid.” – Ryan Millbern, head of bear mitigation and management, Vail police, 2009


The City of Durango realizes these concerns and should be applauded for addressing this issue. This letter is meant to encourage the City of Durango to use whatever resources are available to draft and implement effective policies in reducing the abundance of foods available to bears in our community – to increase public safety and prevent the needless deaths of bears.


Previous City initiatives such as offering residents wildlife-resistant trash containers at $6 a month, bear-proofing of Fassbinder and Lions Den parks, the temporary creation of a Refuse Enforcement position, and City Council passing revisions to the city code that addressed bears and trash, were great steps moving forward in preventing future issues with bears.


The experiences of other communities and a recent five-year bear-human conflict study in the Roaring Fork Valley has shown that asking residents for voluntary compliance and educating residents about living in bear country has been ineffective.


“So far, educating people about living with bears has been a failure… and has not been effective.” – Stewart Breck, biologist with the USDA Wildlife Research Center, 2005


“You’ll try education for five years, only to realize that what’s needed are laws requiring residents to change their behavior in not feeding bears.” – Tom Beck, Retired CDOW black bear researcher, 2003


Trying to coexist with bears and reduce conflict is not an issue unique to our area. According to results from a recent survey of eastern U.S. states and Canadian provinces by the Manitoba Department of Conservation, human-bear conflict was stable in 19% of the regions, down in 3%, varied in 6% and up in 72% of the regions surveyed.


Statewide, bear-human conflict is rising, especially in years of natural bear food failures, and mainly due to availability of human foods. In 2009, three Aspen residents were injured in their homes by black bears, the Aspen police department made 600 contacts with residents who had run-ins with bears on their property, an elderly Ouray woman was fatally mauled by bears she had regularly fed dog food in her backyard, and in an effort to ease the soaring number of conflicts with humans in the Roaring Fork Valley, CDOW increased licenses to allow for more black bear hunting.


Prior to 1993, hunters killed an average of 360 bears statewide out of a population of 10,000 to 14,000 black bears. Since ending the spring hunt, the number of bears killed by hunters has actually increased significantly. From 1999 to 2008, hunters killed on average 752 bears annually. As hunting mortality increased, human-bear conflicts increased as well, and most bear experts and biologists agree that allowing more hunting likely won’t prevent problems.


“By increasing the hunting on bears, we may not be targeting the bears that are doing the nuisance activity.” – John Broderick, CDOW wildlife biologist, 2009


“Hunting has not been shown to be effective at reducing bear and human conflicts, rather the key is to keep bears from ever having access to human food.” – Tom Beck, retired CDOW bear researcher, 2003


In our area, reports of bears being attracted into residential areas continue at an alarming rate, allowing for the ongoing creation of new generations of “nuisance” bears frequenting the community. In 2009, there were 627 reports of bear sightings and incidents. In July alone, there were 185 sighting and incident reports and 111 of them involved bears getting into trash. 94 of the trash-related incidents occurred within city limits.


There were 228 bear sightings and incidents reported in 2008 and 1,274 in 2007 – an average of 710 reports per year over the three years. On average, 85 to 90% of the reports occurred within city limits and around 55% of all reports involved bears attracted to human food sources. Nearly 90% of incidents involving human food sources involved unsecured trash.


“Unsecured trash is to blame for most bear incidents in the Rocky Mountains.” – Bill Andree, CDOW wildlife officer, 2005


In addition, on average, 26 bears are killed each year in our area in conflicts with residents. By the 2000’s, bear-human conflicts were related to a third of all bear mortalities in Colorado, according to Sharon Baruch-Mordo, “Spatiotemporal Distribution of Black Bear-Human Conflicts in Colorado, USA,” 2008.


The issue also isn’t new to our area. In a July 2, 2007 letter to the City of Durango and Durango City Council, CDOW Area Wildlife Manager Patt Dorsey, noted:


• Within the City of Durango the incidence of wildlife foraging for food in trash bins and dumpsters is increasing.

• Unsecured trash is the principal cause of the increase in wildlife activity in the City.

• Wildlife foraging for food in trash bins and dumpsters may pose a threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens.

• Allowing bears access to human foods brings the undesired consequence of threatened public safety and in the end, results in the relocation or killing of bears.

• The City has a responsibility to provide for the safety and health of its residents and to provide

services that enhance the quality of life in Durango. Even though bear attacks on people are extremely rare, bears in town may be a public safety concern.


The letter also recommended that the City consider developing and enforcing a City ordinance related to wildlife and trash storage that:


• Requires bear-resistant trash containers.

• Requires residents with curbside trash pickup to not place trash containers, other than bear-resistant trash containers, at the curb for pickup until after 5:00 a.m. on the morning of their scheduled collection day.

• Requires centralized bear-resistant dumpsters, in lieu of individual refuse containers, when practical in trailer parks, homeowners associations and other clustered residential housing.



The Human-Bear Conflict Group of the International Bear Association has diagramed “Community Solutions to Managing Bear-Human Conflict,” in which they list the following measures for changing both bear behavior and people behavior:


1) Educating residents

2) Preventing problems: Removing attractants, namely trash, is of the utmost importance.

3) Managing bears: Destroying, removing troublesome bears from the wild population plays a role.

4) Educating bears: Teaching bears acceptable behavior and boundaries plays a role.


Trapping and relocating problem bears has proven mostly ineffective, as studies have shown around 85% of those efforts failing. Managing and educating bears would also likely prove ineffective in our area until far more of the community has removed attractants, and far more has been bear-proofed – knowing that three or four years after requiring residents to make trash unavailable once accessed by bears, just 208 of some 4,300 residences have wildlife-resistant trash containers, and the percentage of commercial dumpsters that are wildlife-proof is unknown.


“Otherwise, you’d just be pushing bears around from one trash can to another.” – John Hechtel, biologist with the International Bear Association, in a 2009 presentation in Durango


Data collected from the past three years has shown that many areas within the City of Durango typically experience little to none bear and trash issues, i.e. Skyridge, while other areas have recurring, chronic problems, i.e. W. Second and W. Third Avenues, 32nd Street and in 2007, at the base of the Nature Trail.



Bear Smart Durango believes that residents that have been open to prior warnings and educational efforts, and safely and securely keep their trash away from bears should not be penalized and should have nothing required of them. However, once bears access their trash, residents should be required to make their trash inaccessible to bears, obtain a wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash container, or face citations for attracting bears to your neighborhood. We believe that your right to manage your trash in any manner you see fit ends when you bring bears to your neighbors.




This philosophy seems consistent with “Policy Revisions to Address Conflicts with Bears and Trash in the City of Durango” passed by the Durango City Council on September 4, 2007, that reads as follows:


• Second, when refuse containers are found to be turned over or trash from containers is found to be strewn around the yard or public right-of-way, owners of such containers shall be required to secure bear proof containers from the City or be required to pay additional fees for refuse service until the bear problem is determined to be over.


• Third, for commercial refuse customers of the City using 300-gallon containers for refuse service, additional servicing of containers shall be required and containers shall be empty at the end of each day when bears have been found to have turned over or have removed materials from the containers on more than one occasion. The commercial customer will be required to pay for such additional service.


Note: A motion to include a restriction on placing trash containers out overnight was withdrawn.


“We can’t cite the bears. So if a house gets hit more than once, we’re going to cite the homeowner.” – Jack Rogers, Interim City Manager, The Durango Herald, 2007




The City of Durango website currently includes the following:


“Residents… and businesses in Durango… are responsible to ensure their trash and container(s) are secure from bears and wildlife. Owners will receive a code violation notice and may be required to obtain a wildlife resistance trash container if refuse container(s) is found to be turned over or trash from container(s) is scattered around their yard or in the public right-of-way. Business owners will be required to acquire additional trash services and pay all applicable fees.”


Bear Smart Durango supports portions of the current proposed City revisions, including:

• Limiting residential container placement curbside to the day of collection only

• Citations, instead of a summons, for residents whose trash is toppled by wildlife

• Residents having the option of obtaining a wildlife-resistant trash container in lieu of citations

• Reducing the cost to residents in obtaining a wildlife-resistant trash container


It is the position of Bear Smart Durango to build on these policies by including additional elements, such as requirements for commercial customers, from standard community wildlife ordinances.


“Every bear we move or destroy means a failure in our management strategy. In changing the behavior of people, l’ll wield a stick instead of dangling a carrot anytime.” – Neil Barten, biologist, Alaska Fish & Game, 2009


If educating people and seeking voluntary compliance is the carrot to reducing bear-human conflict, community wildlife-protection ordinances are the stick.




Statewide, CDOW is asking communities to share responsibility in helping to deal with growing human-bear conflict by adopting wildlife ordinances. The message is, there are limitations to CDOW management of black bears, and that it is the responsibility of Colorado communities to reduce the amount of attractants, with trash being the foremost concern, available that lure bears into communities in the first place.


“The most effective measure that towns could take would be to lock up all garbage.” – Stewart Breck, USDA National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, 2008


“The DOW supports all the changes proposed by the city. Nothing is going to make all bear issues go away, but certainly these kinds of incremental things that make little improvements will help… If the community is going to try and improve the bear situation, these are the things you have to do. It is part of doing business in bear country”. – Randy Hampton, CDOW spokesman, speaking about Aspen toughening their wildlife ordinance, 2010


“We (CDOW) don’t regulate disposal of trash, which is the business of counties or cities. But it’s illegal to attract or feed wildlife.” – Joe Lewandowski, CDOW spokesman, 2007


A growing number of communities in Colorado are taking proactive steps to reduce the amount of human foods available to bears. At least 17 other Colorado communities have adopted community wildlife ordinances, including neighboring Mancos, Rico, Ouray, Telluride; and Avon, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Crested Butte, Basalt, Breckenridge, Minturn, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Palmer Lake, and Winter Park. In addition, Pitkin, Eagle and La Plata counties all have similar wildlife ordinances.


Wildlife ordinances, combined with proper enforcement, are designed to reduce the availability of non-natural attractants to bears and the resulting safety and property damage risk posed by the presence of bears in search of human foods within a community – by changing the behavior of residents in not feeding bears.


“Snowmass Village works really hard to reduce bear-human interactions… The town of Snowmass Village has set an example as a community willing to change our habits through our Wildlife Protection Ordinance.” – Laurie Smith, Snowmass Village Animal Protection officer, 2005


“In the summer of 2008, in response to the rapidly growing presence of bears within City limits, the City of Ouray adopted an ordinance to tighten its trash management regulations.  The Police Department proactively enforced the ordinance by patrolling streets and alleys and issuing warnings/citations to violators. Many residents purchased bear-resistant containers in lieu of paying fines and the attention by residents in not placing trash outside until the morning of trash service, greatly diminished the amount of residential trash strewn about by wildlife.” – Kathy Elmont, City Clerk / Treasurer, City of Ouray, 2010


“Vail and Snowmass Village haven’t had nearly the bear problems, wildlife officials say, because of strict enforcement of longstanding rules against unsecure garbage… Regardless of how carefully Aspen area residents now follow the law, in some ways the damage is done.” – Editorial, The Denver Post, 2007


“The policies helped contribute to a peaceful bear season last year in which there were no reports of household break-ins. Vail’s success occurred despite a record number of human-bear encounters throughout the state.” – Ryan Millbern, head of bear mitigation and management for Vail police, 2008 press release


“In Snowmass Village, the number of bear encounters plummeted, and even problems created by other animals, such as raccoons, fell dramatically after the town required neighborhoods to switch to the latched depositories in 1999, said animal-control officer Tina White.” – The Denver Post, 2007


Adopting and enforcing a wildlife ordinance will never eliminate bear-human conflict, but communities that have done so have seen reductions in the number of bears attracted into city limits, and involved in conflicts. The Town of Vail saw a 46% reduction in bear calls within two years of passing their wildlife ordinance. Vail still has bear issues, but has found the number of bears involved in conflicts to be more manageable. The same has been true for other Colorado communities.


“The town of Telluride recently stiffened the rules regarding trash containers and bears, requiring metal lids on commercial dumpsters and the securing of all trash containers, poly carts and dumpsters, year round. Of course, every bear season is different and each year typically has varying levels of bear activity for various reasons.

However, I have personally noticed fewer bear problems here in Telluride since the new rules went into effect. We are very serious about this issue in Telluride and want to protect the bears. We want to keep the bears out of the trash containers at all times. One time is too many.”  – Dan Rider, Town of Telluride Animal Control / Code Enforcement, 2010


Reducing trash as a major attractant has allowed other communities to move on to other measures in managing bear-human conflict, including negative enforcement and aversive conditioning techniques, discouraging bears from frequenting and residing in residential areas, and teaching younger, more susceptible bears “acceptable” behavior and boundaries.


“The cubs have no fear of people. They’ve been around people pretty much their whole lives without experiencing any negative enforcement.” – Kevin Wright, CDOW Aspen District Manager, 2007



“They (bears) associate garbage with a snout full of pepper. Their sense of smell is 100 times more sensitive than a human’s and about seven times more sensitive than a bloodhound’s.” – Ryan Millbern, head of bear mitigation and management for Vail police, describing his officers shooting red pepper paintball pellets to chase away bears, 2007



Wildlife ordinances for the most part read the same and the experiences of communities suggests common language, including:


• Establishing dates for the ordinance to run for the duration of bear season, April 15 to November 15

• Restricting placement of trash containers curbside to the day of collection only for a set time limit.

• Prohibiting trash containing food refuse from being stored outside unless it is in wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash containers, or stored in a secure structure.

• Requiring the proper use and maintenance said trash containers and enclosures.

• Requiring centralized wildlife-proof dumpsters when practical.

• Prohibiting the intentional, and unintentional, feeding of wildlife.

• Restricting the use of birdfeeders from April 15 to November 15.

• Requiring the use and proper maintenance of grease barrels at restaurants and fast food facilities.

• Requiring wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash containers for food refuse at construction sites.

• Requiring wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash containers for food refuse at special events.

• Restricting the accumulation of fallen or discarded fruit.


“By the summer of 2009, there were minimal problems with bears foraging through trash containers and dumpsters.  However, (bears) were quite present in the City limits, aggressively feeding off fruit trees and actually destroying many of those trees.  The City thinks that the tighter regulations and the proactive enforcement has been an effective deterrent for bears and other wildlife, and that these efforts need to be ongoing to remove the lures for wildlife to leave their natural habitats in search of easy food sources.” – Kathy Elmont, City Clerk / Treasurer, City of Ouray, 2010


To be effective, community wildlife ordinances need to be coupled with education and awareness, diligent enforcement, proper trash management strategy and proper bear management. A commitment to take the appropriate action is necessary to ensure compliance and ultimate success of any bear policies.




1. Purpose: The purpose is to protect and maintain wildlife in the Town of Vail and surrounding areas and to minimize the risk of dangerous interaction between humans and wildlife.


2. Definitions: Definitions are provided for what is meant by attractants, refuse, residents, special events, wildlife, etc. and for the three commonly-accepted methods of bear-proofing. For example:


(a) WILDLIFE-RESISTANT REFUSE CONTAINER: A fully enclosed plastic container, of sturdy construction, with a sturdy plastic lid which must have a latching mechanism which prevents access to the contents by wildlife.


(b) WILDLIFE-PROOF REFUSE CONTAINER: A fully enclosed metal container with a metal lid.  The lid must have a latching mechanism, which prevents access to the contents by wildlife.


(c) WILDLIFE-RESISTANT ENCLOSURE: A fully enclosed structure consisting of four sides and a secure door or cover, which shall have a latching device of sufficient strength and design to prevent access by wildlife.


3. Residential Refuse Disposal: Trash containers that receive food refuse must be wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof or be stored within a secure enclosure. Containers can only be placed out for collection after 6:00 AM and must be removed by 7:00 PM.  If trash does not contain food refuse, wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash containers are not required.


4. Maintenance and Operation of all Refuse Containers and Enclosures: Wildlife-resistant and wildlife-proof trash containers must be kept closed and secured. Damaged containers must be repaired within 24 hours. Containers must be labeled for identification, and to guard against theft.


5. Special Event, Construction Site and Commercial Refuse Disposal: Trash containing food refuse at a special event, construction site or business must be in a wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash container.


6. Feeding of Wildlife Prohibited: It is a violation of this ordinance to feed wildlife, either intentionally or unintentionally. Bird feeders must be inaccessible to bears during the six-month bear season.


7. Enforcement: Both the Vail Police Department and Code Enforcement officers have the right to inspect property for violations dealing with wildlife. (Regulations can be written so that any law enforcement officer, whether from City Code Enforcement, CDOW, Police Department or Animal Protection, can respond and write tickets for violations, so the entire burden would not fall on one party. In 2008, the Vail Police Department issued 119 citations and 434 warnings).


8. Penalty Assessment: Penalties and/or citation fees are defined. (Penalties can help generate revenue, and money generated from ordinance enforcement can go towards a special fund set aside to purchase additional bear-proof trash containers, assist low-income residents in bear-proofing and compliance, funding of additional enforcement agents, or funding ongoing bear-human conflict educational efforts).


Penalties for violations of wildlife ordinances in Colorado are as follows:


















Snowmass Village




Palmer Lake




Crested Butte



$300 – $1,000




$300 and/or Jail



$150 – $250

$250 – $1,000

Steamboat Springs



Up to $1,000




Up to $999


Up to $999 and/or 180 days

La Plata County




Pitkin County



Up to $1,000

Eagle County







In 2008, the Town of Mancos, Colorado passed, “ORDINANCE NO. 599, SERIES 2008: AN ORDINANCE REGULATING THE STORAGE OF REFUSE AND THE FEEDING OF WILDLIFE.” Included was standard community wildlife ordinance language, such as:


• Wildlife-resistant or wildlife-proof trash containers are required.

• Residential trash can placement for collection is restricted to 6 AM to 6 PM.

• Restrictions for special events and construction sites.

• Feeding of wildlife is prohibited.

• Restrictions on bird feeders from April 15 to November 15.




Education and a public awareness campaign is crucial in ensuring resident buy-in and compliance in removing attractants in the community. It is critical in helping people to understand any ordinance by outlining:


1) What the need is for an ordinance (i.e. to increase public safety and prevent bear deaths)

2) A simple, cohesive explanation of the ordinance

3) How the ordinance can most cost-effectively be obeyed

4) What the consequences of violating the ordinance would entail




Passing and enforcing a wildlife ordinance is only a small part of an effective human-wildlife conflict management system with the goals of increasing public safety and preventing wildlife deaths. Any integrated approach to managing black bears should include bear research and monitoring, tracking of incident and sighting reports, non-lethal bear management efforts, lethal control of problem bears, a proper trash management system, public education on coexisting with bears, law enforcement to reduce conflicts between bears and people and legislation with penalties for people who feed and draw black bears into populated areas.



“The future and hope of nuisance-bear management lies in… requiring bear-proof garbage containers and responsible behavior by residents. And… covenants must be rigidly enforced. The root of the problem is that we’re leaving food out to attract bears.” – Tom Beck, retired CDOW black bear researcher, from “Ghost Grizzlies” by David Petersen



Thank you for your consideration of this issue. If we can provide additional information or answer any questions, feel free to contact me at 749-4262 or









Bryan Peterson

Executive Director

Bear Smart Durango






The Human-Bear Conflict Group of the International Bear Association has diagramed “Community Solutions to Managing Bear-Human Conflict,” in which they list the following measures for an integrated approach for communities to manage bear-human conflict: