2013 Boulder bear deaths

May 21: Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers killed a 2-year-old male bear in Eben G. Fine Park after it reportedly broke into two homes in search of food. The bear was tranquilized and removed from a tree in the park, then euthanized. Some neighbors questioned whether wildlife officials killed the correct bear.

Sept. 6: Colorado Parks and Wildlife rangers killed a previously tagged bear in Columbia Cemetery. The 180- to 200-pound bear's presence had caused nearby Flatirons Elementary School to go on lockdown earlier in the day. When the bear did not head toward the foothills in the evening, rangers put down the bear.

Sept. 9: A massive 590-pound male bear was killed near Flatirons Elementary around 10:30 a.m. Wildlife officials said the bear had a long history of going through trash, including knocking down fences to get at food. He had been relocated to near the Wyoming border several years ago but quickly returned to Boulder.

Sept. 30: Wildlife officials killed a mother bear who had been tagged in 2011 and had been seen with her two cubs numerous times in Boulder's University Hill and Chautauqua neighborhoods this summer. The sow bear swiped at a dog in a yard near Cascade Avenue and 14th Street on Sept. 18. Wildlife officials believe she was bedding in the yard of that residence and had become territorial.


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The two cubs were relocated to the Granby area.

A recent spate of bear deaths -- including, most recently, a mother bear killed in the Chautauqua neighborhood Monday night -- has led some City Council members to ask that Boulder expedite consideration of requiring bear-resistant trash cans in some neighborhoods.

Boulder officials have considered requiring the cans before, but many residents have objected to the increased cost, particularly those on fixed incomes or who already take measures to prevent bears from getting into trash.

A trash can sits on its side with its contents spilled in an alleyway behind properties on 14th Street between Cascade Avenue and Baseline Road in Boulder
A trash can sits on its side with its contents spilled in an alleyway behind properties on 14th Street between Cascade Avenue and Baseline Road in Boulder on Wednesday. ( Paul Aiken )

The city scrapped a plan last year to do a pilot program with bear-resistant trash cans because they cost too much. The program's budget would have covered cans for just a few blocks, not enough to make a measurable difference.

Instead, Boulder officials have been conducting education campaigns about bears and trash and doing increased monitoring and ticketing in an area south of Pleasant Street, north of Baseline Road, west of Ninth Street to the city limits.

The city's urban wildlife conservation staff had planned to make recommendations on policy changes sometime in 2014.

However, after the killing Monday of a mother bear who had become a bit of a Boulder wildlife celebrity this summer, several residents asked the City Council to take stronger action to stop people from putting trash out in alleys.

Several council members, including Lisa Morzel and Macon Cowles, said they want the council to take action sooner.

"I cannot tolerate one more bear being killed, and I intend to bring this up," Morzel said. "It's so sad. These bears are here because we have displaced them, and we are inviting them (with available trash)."

Cowles said the killing of the sow bear "has pushed me over the top."

Residents with curbside trash pickup can't put their cans out until the morning of pickup, but there are no similar restrictions on alleyways in Boulder.

Residents are supposed to take precautions so that wildlife cannot get into their trash. Code enforcement officers have issued more than 600 notices of violation this year alone.

City Manager Jane Brautigam said it can be difficult to know to which home a tipped trash can belongs, and code enforcement officers need to respond to other complaints as well.

Brenda Lee, who started the Boulder Bear Coalition, said the killing of the sow bear hits an emotional note because it orphaned two cubs, but every bear death hits hard.

Lee said requiring bear-resistant trash cans would make enforcement easier.

"Education works some, but it's just not effective, and if you look at other cities that have tried education alone, it's not enough for people to make a change," she said.

She noted that University Hill has high turnover among the student population, so education efforts have limited impact.

Councilman Ken Wilson said it will take more than locking trash cans to fix the trash problem in a neighborhood where many landlords don't pay for enough trash capacity for their residents and bins are often overflowing days before pickup.

"This will not be easy," he said.

Now, residents can request a bear-resistant trash can from Western Disposal. That costs $10 more a month. The fee covers the extra work to manually open the trash can and Western's capital cost of buying and replacing the cans.

Western Disposal President Frank Bruno said the company is open to working with the city and met with wildlife conservation officials Monday, before the most recent bear was killed.

If the cans were required for a large number of households -- some people have suggested requiring the cans west of Broadway -- Bruno said it's likely there would be economies of scale that would lower the cost.

In a survey of residents in western Boulder neighborhoods, they were nearly evenly divided on whether they would willingly pay more for trash service to have bear-resistant cans.

Lee said people in Boulder have an option of trash haulers and should research their options. She bought her own bear-resistant cans and doesn't pay an additional fee to her hauler.

Lee sells bear-resistant cans at cost through her group's website, boulderbearcoalition.org.

Bruno said the advantage of using Western is that the company will replace a damaged can at no extra charge.

Bear-resistant cans cost around $200.

Some Boulder residents have suggested that people should not call wildlife officials about the presence of bears to avoid them being put down.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said it's always at the discretion of the person who sees the bear to decide whether to call.

However, bears in urban areas can present a public safety concern, she said.

"If I were in that neighborhood, and people didn't call, and someone in my family were hurt ..." Churchill said. "I don't want to overstate that because I don't want people to be scared of bears, but there is a public safety issue."

There have been three fatal bear attacks in Colorado since 1960. The most recent, near Ouray in 2009, involved a woman who had been feeding bears for years.

There have been more than 60 attacks resulting in injuries during that time period. Those range from wounded bears who attacked the hunters who shot them to bears who attacked sleeping campers in their tent, even though those campers took precautions like hanging their food away from the tent.

"I don't think we have evolved to the point where we can have predators living in our backyards," Churchill said, stressing that she didn't mean Boulder's figurative backyard of the nearby mountains but rather the individual backyards of city residents. "It's not appropriate habitat. It's not good bear habitat. They get territorial."

Lee said she would like the state to find alternatives to killing bears, but she agrees they can't stay in town.

"We don't want a 600-pound bear wandering around a neighborhood with an elementary school," she said. "I'm not saying the bear should be killed, but that's not a healthy situation."