To protect people and bears, the Dolores Town Board passed an emergency ordinance Monday requiring bear-resistant trash containers for all residents and businesses in town.
Since the beginning of July, five bears have been raiding trash bins in town, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin, and officials want to stop the habit before it becomes a bigger problem.
“About five different bears have learned when trash day is and come into town about 2 a.m. Wednesdays to feed from garbage containers,” he said.
Nowlin and his deputies have responded to nighttime calls and chased bears off, sometimes using rubber bullets and deploying stun guns. Residents have been waking up to trash-strewn streets during the past several weeks.
“We want to control this problem before there is a bear-human encounter,” Nowlin said. “Once they realize they can’t get into the trash, they will stop coming.”
A spring freeze damaged the wild acorn crop, a major food source for black bears, and bears are looking for alternative calories to gain the weight needed for hibernation.
Waste Management, the main trash service in town, has agreed to provide residents and businesses with bear-resistant containers, said route manager John Foster, but customers have to order them. They cost $10 to purchase.
Waste Management will also provide bear-resistant commercial dumpsters that have a locking bar for businesses and restaurants, but the price is still being worked out, he said.
“We understand the problem, and our solutions have shown to be effective,” Foster said, adding that orders for the new containers will be filled as quickly as possible.
Resident Jeff Sand obtained the bear-resistant container after his trash was raided on North Seventh Street.
“They work, and we have not had a problem since,” he said.
The new containers use a metal cable to secure the lid. The cable is easy for residents to attach, and the simple system is convenient for garbage collectors.
Residents should not use their own designs for bear-proofing the containers, Foster said. Bears have been knocking off tires put on containers, and tie-down straps and bungee cords have also been breached.
A new trash collection company, Countryside Disposal, serves customers in Dolores and is working on providing bear-resistant trash cans, according to a company spokeswoman. Customers should call 565-8180 for more information.
The ordinance will take effect Friday. However, residents will have a couple of weeks to comply before citations are issued at the end of August, officials said.
“It’s a change for residents, but necessary,” said town attorney Mike Green, who added the penalty is a fine of up to $499 and possible jail time.
According to the ordinance, all trash must now be stored in a bear-resistant container, and placing bags of trash next to the garbage container will not be allowed. Officials recommended that people occasionally wash out their trash bins with bleach as well, and wait as long as possible before putting the trash out for collection.
Nowlin emphasized that the bear issue in Dolores is more of a people problem, and that the bears should not be blamed.
“We are not overrun by bears. A small group is working off instinct, and because their natural food is scarce, they see bright lights of Dolores as a food source,” he said. “This is the most bear activity in town in several years.”
Nowlin said that he was encouraged that the bears are showing a fear of humans and quickly scamper back into the woods when chased by deputies.
However, one big bruin is showing less fear of humans, and has two tags in his ear, meaning that he has been captured and released twice by wildlife officers for being a nuisance.
“One more violation, and he will be euthanized,” Nowlin said. “It’s up to town residents to break the habit. We all love wildlife and have to learn to live with them in a way that protects us and them.”
Officials warned residents to not shoot at or chase bears that get into trash. Call 911 to report a problem bear.
The sheriff has trained deputies to take specific action against the marauding bears, such as using hazing techniques when it is likely that the bears will flee town limits instead of climbing the nearest tree.
To order a bear-resistant container, call John Foster at 565-3860.