County adds teeth to ordinance
County trash scofflaws consider yourselves warned: there’s going to be a new sheriff in town.
La Plata County, in conjunction with BearSmart Durango, recently received a $15,000 gift to fund a part-time, seasonal trash enforcement officer. If all goes as planned, the officer will start patrolling the unincorporated parts of the county in search of violators of the county’s bear ordinance this spring.
“We got a $15,000 donation from a resident in Hermosa,” BearSmart Director Bryan Peterson said Tuesday. “He called us last summer, the morning the story about bear mortality came out, and asked how he could help.”
Last year, a record number of bears were euthanized in La Plata County – partly the result of poor natural food sources and partly the result of food made available by humans. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2017, 60 bears were euthanized – 40 by CPW – across a region known as “Area 15,” which extends from Pagosa Springs to the Utah border, and from the New Mexico border north to Silverton. Of those put down, 11 were in La Plata County and 25 in Durango city limits.
In September, the City of Durango enacted an emergency ordinance, levying stiffer fines for residents – $100 for first offenses and $200 for subsequent violations – if a bear got into their trash. Prompted by warmer temperatures in November, the city extended its ordinance to mid-January.
Throughout the bear season, the city issued 230 violations, of which 44 resulted in fines, according to code enforcement officer Steve Barkley.
The story in the county, however, is different. Although La Plata County passed a bear-trash ordinance in 2008, with no funds to pay for an enforcement officer, it had little teeth. In the eight years the law’s been on the books, there hasn’t been a single citation.
Peterson is hoping the new officer will help change that, and motivate residents to keep their trash secure and bears at bay. Violators who have bears ransack their trash face a $200 fine for first-time offenses, $300 for second and $500 for subsequent. Peterson noted that first-time offenders can have their fine waived if they buy a bear-resistant container – which costs about $200.
However, the availability of bear-resistant containers is a problem that has yet to be worked out. Only one of the three waste–management companies serving county residents – Phoenix Recycling – offers bear-proof cans. But Peterson said he hopes the other two will get on board when they hear news of the new enforcement. They have been invited to a meeting Jan. 29 to discuss the topic.
“What we’ve found is that, lacking any kind of penalty, you can’t get residents to change their behavior,” Peterson said. “I think this will be a step in the right direction.”
He said the new officer will likely come from the La Plata County Humane Society but be considered law enforcement. It is possible the new officer could help the City with its bear-enforcement duties as well.
Similar positions in other towns with bear problems, such as Aspen and Boulder, have proved successful, Peterson said. Last year, Boulder County issued 1,000 citations, which netted $250,000 in revenue.
But more than money, Peterson said it’s about getting people on board with locking up their trash and avoiding another deadly year like 2017.
“At a conference with wildlife managers in Missoula, Mont., last year, the most common frustration among fish, wildlife and park officers was lack of enforcement,” he said.