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Bears raid Dolores trash as town phases in resistant cans

But new secured bins have improved the situation, sheriff says
Bears in Dolores have been getting into trash cans, but a new bear-resistant container ordinance is helping solve the problem, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steven Nowlin.

The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office reported Monday that the sheriff confronted two bears in downtown Dolores last week and scared them up a hillside and out of town limits.

The latest confrontations came the week after the Dolores Town Board passed an emergency ordinance requiring bear-resistant trash containers for all residents and businesses in town. The ordinance carries a fine of up to $499 and possible jail time, according to town attorney Mike Green. The ordinance took effect on Aug 18, and residents were given a couple of weeks to comply.

According to the ordinance, all trash must now be stored in a bear-resistant container, and placing bags of trash next to the garbage container will not be allowed.

No tickets have been issued, said Sheriff Steve Nowlin, and town residents and businesses have been complying with the new ordinance.

“It is getting better. We want to get 100 percent compliance, and it looks like we will get there,” he said.

Waste Management has been replacing trash cans in town with bear-resistant ones, and the company is charging a onetime fee of $10. The company is making modifications for those who may have trouble with the metal clasp.

Nowlin said citations will not be considered until everyone who ordered a new trash can receives one, expected to take about another week.

“If you don’t have one, the bears will find your trash, then we will come knocking,” he said.

Some businesses with dumpsters are also waiting for bear-resistant modifications to take place, as well as the dumpsters at Dolores Schools. The town of Dolores will install bear-resistant lids on trash cans in the parks as well.

Officials recommended that people occasionally wash out their trash bins with bleach, and wait as long as possible before putting the trash out for collection.

Nowlin and his deputies have responded to nighttime calls and chased bears off this summer, sometimes using rubber bullets and deploying stun guns. The sheriff has trained deputies to take specific action against the marauding bears, such as using hazing techniques when it is likely that the bears will flee town limits instead of climbing the nearest tree.

In the latest incidents, Nowlin said that he noticed several overturned trash cans while on patrol on Aug. 22, and then confronted a large black bear eating out of a household trash bin at Hillside Avenue and Second Street.

“As I approached, the bear ran northbound up the hillside,” Nowlin stated in his incident report. “This occurred twice as the bear would return to this trash after approximately 20 minutes of leaving the area.”

About 12:30 a.m., as the bear returned to the scene, Nowlin reported that he confronted the bear from 15 feet away, and fired a rubber bullet from his 12-gauge shotgun into the bear’s rear. A second shot sent the bear running up the hillside out of town limits, he said.

About 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 24, Nowlin responded to a call about a bear entering dumpsters on Dolores school grounds. Arriving at the scene, Nowlin spotted a large black bear crossing 11th Street at Railroad Avenue from the GST Liquor Store toward a dumpster at the Riverside Convenience Store. Nowlin again confronted the bear, firing a rubber bullet and scaring the bear back up the hill.

Sheriff deputies have been going door to door informing the public of the new bear-resistant trash can ordinance. Nowlin said he is in contact with Colorado Parks and Wildlife regarding the potential to trap nuisance bears.

“Once everyone is in compliance, the bears will leave. The ones who continue coming into town looking for trash will be the problem bears that may need to be trapped and relocated,” he said.

There have been no bear-human encounters in Dolores, Nowlin said, but the bears are on the streets and in people’s yards.

“One was lounging below a man’s window on Riverside and would not leave, another on Central dragged away trash-can by the bear-resistant cable, but did not get in, so they work,” he said. “I’m proud of the town for responding so well to this situation.”

An early freeze that damaged wild acorn and berry production has left bears desperate to put on the weight necessary for hibernation.

Officials warned residents to not shoot at or chase bears that get into trash. Call 911 to report a problem bear. To order a bear-resistant container, call John Foster at 970-565-3860.

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