Bears and Trash in Boulder

“We don’t want bears to learn that the city is a place where they have easy access to a constant food supply.”

Valerie Matheson is the Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator for the City of Boulder. She says she can see the impact of the bear trash ordinance on the monitoring route in the City of Boulder where she walks 612 houses “and back in 2012, 2013, which were really challenging bear activity years, I may have seen 15 trash carts strewn just in my daily route, and now we’re looking at maybe 3.”

Matheson says bears are still coming into the alleys, but have less access to food in trash cans that are properly latched “we really have made a difference in the amount of food that is available in the urban area for bears in terms of trash.”

It’s been a year since the City of Boulder first introduced the bear trash can ordinance, requiring residents west of Broadway and south of Sumac to secure their trash in bear-proof trash cans or face a fine. Matheson cautions however that after only one year that it is difficult  to make a direct connection between the ordinance and the number of bears coming into town “there are so many environmental factors each year that affect the number of bears coming into town.”  This year was a poor year for natural food for bears, a dynamic that pushes them into the city where they are lured by trash.

Matheson says the majority of what bears are eating in town is trash, but there are other attractants like pet food left outside, bird feeders and fruit trees “don’t leave it on the ground, collect it when it’s ripe off the trees.”  The City is working with Community Fruit Rescue to help residents harvest fruit trees.

Despite efforts to reduce attractants for bears, the city has seen several bears this summer, one of which will be euthanized if she appears again.  The mother of two cubs has shown aggressive behavior towards people as she protects her young.  Wildlife officials say they have no choice but to euthanize the bear if she appears again.

“I can’t overemphasize how important it is that we as a community come together and think about ways that we can limit the attractants in town and teach the bears every year that this is not a place where they can come in and find food so they learn to stay in their natural areas and that is ultimately what will protect bears and save their lives.”

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The city is continuing to roll out the bear trash ordinance with more neighborhoods West of Broadway getting bear proof trash cans. The fine for a first offense will be $250, with fines of up to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third violation.

145 summons have been given since the beginning of September to people who either don’t have the correct trash can, are not latching it correctly or who have trash overflowing from the container. Find out more about Boulder’s bear trash ordinance here.

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