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Durango to be reimbursed for as many as 1,000 bear-proof bins

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Dale Cogswell, the solid waste recycle manager for the city of Durango, said, “The most difficult part is to get people to put on both latches.”

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Durango might be very welcoming to tourists, but wildlife scientists and city officials are collaborating to keep out unwanted guests of another kind.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reimbursing the city of Durango for the $135,000 cost of 760 bear-resistant trash containers. The state’s goal is to fund as many as a thousand resistant containers in time for the bears’ emergence next spring.

Scientists want to test the hypothesis that reducing bears’ access to human food will reduce conflicts between bears and people, which have been escalating for years as urban development encroaches into bear country.

Durango, of course, is located in the heart of a bear habitat, which makes it a “perfect place” for the study, said Heather Johnson, a researcher for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

A study at Yosemite National Park showed that bear-proofing significantly reduced bear-human conflicts, but the effectiveness of bear-resistant containers have not yet been studied in an urban setting, Johnson said.

Another recent study found that bear-awareness education has not been very effective in getting people to reduce the availability of garbage and other types of bear bait, Johnson said.

Common mistakes include keeping pet food outside or not taking down bird feeders in the summer, said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Bears have a powerful sense of smell, Lewandowski said. They can sniff out pizza boxes in the trash and even old french fries buried under the car seat.

A bear recently got into 14 cars in the town of Snowmass, Lewandowski said.

Lewandowski urged people not to take out trash until it’s time for pickup. Wrapping discarded food in a plastic grocery bag is also a good idea, he said.

Wildlife officers hate having to put down a bear, Lewandowski said.

“They’re magnificent creatures,” he said.

Some people wonder why bears are not removed to the wilderness as an alternative to being put down, but Lewandowski said there are no longer any places where they won’t get into trouble again.

“Fifty years ago, that might have worked,” he said, but the state has become too developed.

Foraging for human food is becoming ingrained among bears as cubs learn from the example of mama bear, Lewandowski said.

“It’s becoming a generational thing,” he said.

Because it’s difficult to change bear behavior, it might be easier to change human behavior, he said.

For the garbage-can study, Durango will be divided into four zones. An area with the bear-resistant containers and an area without the containers will be on both sides of the river.

The two areas with the bear containers will have about 500 containers each. The containers are a mix of 64 and 95 gallon containers.

The two areas without the bear-resistant containers are the study’s “control areas” so researchers can make comparisons and account for variables.

The borders of these areas are still being determined. The study is expected to take two years to account for different factors that can vary from year to year.

Because of the dry conditions, officials had expected more bear activity this summer, but gratefully only one bear has had to be put down, Lewandowski said.

The bear-resistant containers have special latches for an especially tight seal. The latches have a pin which require an opposable thumb to open.

City Councilor Sweetie Marbury can attest to their effectiveness.

She saw a bear come into her neighborhood and try to get into a bear-resistant container.

The bear knocked over the container and left claw marks, but could not get it open.

“The container held,” Marbury said. “So the bear left the neighborhood.”


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