Residents of western Boulder should be required to have bear-resistant trash cans, starting with everyone served by alley trash service this spring, Boulder wildlife officials said.
The recommendation affects some 12,000 homes and comes after the deaths of four bears in Boulder last year at the hands of state wildlife officers. All the bears were well known city denizens who lived mostly on trash. A necropsy on one massive male bear found steak, baked potatoes and pasta in his stomach and no evidence of any naturally occurring food.
If You Go
What: Boulder City Council
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Canyon Theater, Boulder Main Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave.
The city was already in the process of developing recommendations on bears and trash, and the bear deaths sparked many residents to call for stricter enforcement.
The Boulder City Council is set to discuss the city's policy toward bears and trash at its meeting Tuesday.
If the City Council supports the recommendation, officials will draft an ordinance, which will go through two readings and a public hearing. The City Council could also opt for a different approach.
Officials also want the City Council to consider raising the fine for not securing trash to $250 from $100 and waive the requirement that the resident be personally served with the notice of violation.
The policy recommendation is the strictest of several options city officials considered.
The proposal calls for bear-resistant trash cans to be mandatory for all homes west of Broadway, south of Wonderland Lake and north of Greenbriar.
Last year, officials were considering applying the policy only in a smaller "high bear activity" area and only in alleys.
They also were considering asking residents to unlatch their bear-resistant cans the morning of pick-up to reduce labor — and hence costs — for Western Disposal haulers.
The recommendation now is to leave cans latched and let haulers unlatch them.
Boulder Urban Wildlife Coordinator Val Matheson said any unsecured trash will attract bears.
"In talking to people working on bear issues in other parts of the country, when they have trash unsecured in the morning, they see more bear activity in the morning," she said. "We worried we would be shifting the problem. They're smart, adaptable creatures and if we shift the food supply, they'll adapt."
Matheson hopes to have the policy in place for all alley trash service this spring, when bears wake up from hibernation.
The city would then look at phasing in a policy for curbside trash service as well.
People with curbside pickup aren't allowed to put their trash out until 5 a.m. the morning of pick up, and those cans have traditionally represented less of a bear problem.
Matheson is also asking the City Council to give the city manager the authority to expand the enforcement area without another council vote.
Bears are generally more comfortable closer to the foothills where they can move in and out of town, but bears have occasionally been seen east of Broadway for years.
Matheson said the city will closely monitor bear behavior to see if the bear-resistant trash can policy causes them to move into other parts of town.
Looking to reduce cost — and confusion
When mandating bear-resistant cans has come up in the past, many residents objected, citing the cost.
Western Disposal has charged an extra $10 a month for customers with bear-resistant cans. Western also retained ownership of the cans and needed to account for replacement costs.
In a letter to City Council, Western Disposal CEO Frank Bruno said the cost could be reduced to between 19 cents and $4 a month depending on the type and size of bear-resistant can. Most customers likely will see a $2 a month increase.
Those costs are preliminary and depend in part on what policy the City Council adopts.
The company can get much cheaper prices on the cans if they buy in bulk for a large number of customers.
Western is also willing to allow customers to buy their own bear-resistant cans and pay no additional monthly fee. The customer would then have to pay to replace the can if it broke. Bear-resistant cans cost around $200, depending on the size and brand.
Western is also working on ways to retrofit their existing cans to make them bear-resistant.
"We're trying to take every opportunity to reduce costs and reduce confusion and make it easier on the hauler and on the customer," Bruno said in an interview.
Some Boulder residents have come up with their own retrofits to stop bears from getting into trash cans.
Ashleigh Hitchcock and Leslie Hitchcock Whiteside, industrial artists who call themselves "the Scrap Sisters," have demonstrated their "Tidy Bear" retrofit several times at City Council. The design has been on their own cans in the Mapleton Hill area for three years, and no bear has ever gotten in. The can's lid also falls open when it is turned completely upside down, which they believe would facilitate its use with the automated trucks that do curbside pickup.
The Scrap Sisters have asked the city to adopt their retrofit, which they believe they can do for $25 a can.
Matheson said the city is open to local solutions, but they need to pass testing at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana, where all bear-resistant cans are tested for certification.
Whiteside said she intends to have the Tidy Bear tested.
"That would definitely be an avenue that we would take," she said. "It's been out on the street for three years at two different addresses, mine and my sister's. I stand behind it, and I hope a grizzly bear can't open it. It's a very affordable, viable solution for people."
'A lot of people just aren't getting it'
Matheson said the phased roll-out of the policy allows time for different can options to be considered.
However, enforcement officers will require that bear-resistant cans be of a certified design.
Matheson said the cost concerns haven't gone away, but in public outreach this fall on the issue, officials saw a lot more support for bear-resistant cans.
Residents who live near 8th Street and Aurora Avenue, near Chautauqua, said Friday that making bear-proofing mandatory is the only way to keep bears out of trash.
"We put our trash out on trash day morning, and that's what other people should do, but realistically they won't," Julie Griffitts said. "I think they need to do something mandatory."
Jonathan Griffits, her husband, said while he is slightly concerned about the cost, he does think it needs to be done.
"You see it all the time," he said. "A lot of people just aren't getting it."
Brian Casey said something needs to be done to stop bears from coming into their neighborhood. He said this year his wife got out of her car in front of their house only to see a bear lumbering down their street in the middle of the day.
"It's been going on for years," Casey said. "They have cubs, and they just keep learning the same thing."
Casey said he wouldn't mind paying a little extra for the bear-proofing and says it needs to be mandatory or some people simply won't participate.
"I think there are too many rentals, too many new people every year who just don't get it," he said. "I walk my dog and I see the same people doing it, and I think, 'Do you like picking up your trash again?'"
Brenda Lee of the Boulder Bear Coalition, which advocates for policies that protect bears, said she was glad to see the city propose requiring the cans over the larger enforcement area and not ask residents to unlatch their cans in the morning.
She said the city needs to make sure its own officers or trash haulers levy penalties on people who don't comply.
"People get upset when they're going the right thing and nobody is penalizing the people who don't," she said. "Somebody needs to do it."
The proposal calls for the city to hire two new enforcement officers. Lee said at least one of those should be dedicated to trash during the bear season.
And Lee said that if the city can come up with money for additional enforcement officers, it should try to come up with money to mitigate the cost, as well.
"Can the city help offset the cost?" she said. "That's one of the questions that people have. I think most people agree that we don't want bears getting into trash. They're talking about getting more enforcement people. Maybe they could find some money to help people on fixed incomes."
Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars contributed to this report.