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  • Urban Wildlife
  • Urban Wildlife Management Plan
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Co-Existing With Bears

Co-Existing With Bears

Boulder is habitat for diverse wildlife including black bears. When bears come into the urban environment in search of food their chance of getting killed greatly increases. 

Map of the mandatory bear-resistant cart zone

Bears have always been a part of life in Boulder. The city’s urban wildlife conservation project aims to ensure bears and humans can safely co-exist. Through education, awareness and laws, the city is working to limit the number of bears that enter Boulder.

This year, bears have been spotted in several areas around town, including the Chautauqua area, the Newlands and rural North Boulder, and overall bear activity has become more common east of Broadway and west of 30th street in the past few years. As bears begin to prepare for hibernation, they increase their calorie intake in order to sustain themselves through the colder months. This means the community can expect to see increased activity as bears try to pack on the pounds for winter. 

Bear Protection Ordinance

The city's 2017 Bear Protection Ordinance 8161 aims to protect bears by eliminating access to food rewards found in trash and compost bins. The ordinance requires:

  • Anywhere in the city: Bear-resistant containers are required if trash and compost are put out the night before pickup.

Noncompliance Fines

Code enforcement officers will issue fines for noncompliance, including not latching containers, and violators will not receive warnings. Officers may issue tickets in-person or give citations to property owners via email or printed notification. The fines are:

  • $100 for the first offense
  • $250 for the second offense
  • $500 for the third offense.

Please note yard waste such as leaves and branches are not considered bear attractants and can be put out for collection in leaf-litter bags or bundled with string.  If compost containers only contain yard waste, they must still be latched.  Also, bear-resistant carts and recycling containers can be put out for collection after 8pm the night before pick-up anywhere in the city.


Reducing Urban Bear Attractants

To help protect bears, community members are encouraged to reduce potential bear attractants. This includes:

  • Using bear-resistant containers in working condition or storing waste in an enclosed space
  • Harvesting ripe fruit
  • Securing and protecting backyard livestock such as chickens, goats and bees. These animals are bear attractants and need to be housed in secure structures. Electric fencing* is another way to protect livestock from bears.
  • Feeding birds in winter months only

*Electric fencing requires a permit pdf in the City of Boulder.


More Information


Bear-Resistant Carts

Bear-resistant carts are similar to most trash and compost carts currently used in Boulder, but are reinforced with special latches. Carts that meet the bear-resistant pdf criteria have been tested and rated by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

Examples of Bear-resistant Carts That Meet the Ordinance Requirements

  • BearSaver Grizzly Poly Cart models (PC32-G, PC65-G, and PC95-G).
  • Bearicuda Basic, Classic, and Stealth models
    (PAK130, PAK132, PAK164, PAK195, STL135, STL264, and STL296)

Is Your Cart Broken?

The city requires bear-resistant containers to be in working condition, however they can break. If a cart is broken it must be fixed.  For Western Disposal customers, call 303-444-2037 and request a replacement cart.  Carts are generally replaced within 24 hours.  If you are a One-Way Trash or Republic customer and you have purchased your cart, you are responsible for the repairs or replacement.

Would you like a bear-resistant container even though you do not live in the area where it is required?

Contact your trash hauler for the services they provide with bear- resistant container.  You do not have to live in the area it is required to obtain a bear-resistant cart.

How can I make a bear-resistant waste enclosure?

Constructing Bear-resistant Waste Enclosures pdf

Call the Police dispatch non-emergent number at 303-441-3333 and ask to speak to a Code Enforcement officer.  Provide the officer the address of the trash violation.

You can also report trash violations on the city’s Inquire Boulder site or Inquire Boulder app.


Boulder Bear Videos


Check out this video shared by a resident of a juvenile bear inspecting his bear-resistant waste bin--and deciding to move along after already having learned trying to break into the containers wasn't worth the effort.

This video was taken the evening of June 6, 2016.




Bear-resistant trash bins work -- See this video from Inside Boulder News










At its Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, City Council received a staff update about bears and trash in the urban interface. This update was in part due to community and council concerns related to four bears that were killed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife due to public safety concerns. Council identified securing trash from bears as a priority and staff began developing options for council consideration. The community’s input helped shape the staff recommendation that was presented to City Council on Jan. 21, 2014.

Community Meetings

  • City Council discussed the options for securing trash in Boulder on Jan. 21, 2014.
  • A public meeting was held on Dec. 9, 2013 to discuss the options for securing trash in Boulder.
  • An Environmental Advisory Board meeting was held on Dec. 4, 2013 to discuss the options for securing trash in Boulder.

A. Problem Statement 
Boulder has a history of black bears foraging on trash, fruit trees, bird feeders, and other food attractants in the western urban area. Black bears tend to avoid humans, though their presence in residential areas is well-documented, and the potential for interaction with community members is a potential threat to human safety.

The greatest danger to bears occurs when they become dependent on human food. The average trash receptacle contains thousands of usable and easily accessible calories for a bear to consume. Bears discover that it is quicker and easier to knock over a trash container for food than to forage for their natural food sources in nearby wooded habitat and natural areas. While eating trash, bears consume cellophane, foil, and other non-digestible material that is harmful and can make them sick.

Eating trash is not the only danger to bears. Bears that spend time eating human-generated food sources get used to being around people, lose their natural fear of people, and then spend more time in town. These habituated bears have a higher mortality rate than bears that live in natural areas. In 2013 alone, two bears were killed by cars, and four bears were killed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers due to public safety concerns.

The most effective way to curb bears learning to live off trash in town is to secure trash. By developing effective strategies to secure trash, and improve community awareness on how to co-exist with bears, the city and the community will increase the safety of residents while protecting local wildlife.

B. Objectives

  • Encourage the community to participate in the conversation about options to improve trash storage.
  • Collect community feedback on options to reduce the accessibility of food waste to bears.
  • Use community feedback to develop a staff recommendation for City Council on Jan. 21, 2014, leading to an ordinance with solutions to reduce bears' access to trash.

C. Adaptive Management Approach 
On Oct. 18, 2011, City Council accepted the Black Bear and Mountain Lion Component of the Urban Wildlife Management Plan pdf (UWMP), which identifies an adaptive management approach to reducing the accessibility of trash to bears in Boulder. The approach includes a three-year monitoring and evaluation cycle, which involves the following three steps:

  • Step 1:  Monitor the issue and build community education and awareness (2012 and 2013);
  • Step 2:  Evaluate results and success (2014); and
  • Step 3:  Make changes to the approach based on the evaluation results (2014).

D. Programs Implemented 
The 2012 and 2013, UWMP implementation efforts to address bears in trash included:

  • community surveys designed to uncover current attitudes, behaviors, and obstacles in living with black bears in western Boulder;
  • bear activity monitoring, including systematic recording of bear/trash conflicts in select neighborhoods west of Broadway; and
  • the Bear Education and Enforcement Pilot Program, in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

E. Issues and Considerations 
Community feedback provided during the development and implementation of the Urban Wildlife Management Plan (UWMP), in addition to research on strategies to limit bears access to trash, have illustrated a successful community-supported program that improves the way trash is secured from bears must consider the issues listed below.

  • Effectiveness vs. Feasibility:  The most effective trash securing strategies implemented by other communities may not be feasible for Boulder. Specifically, the most effective long-term solution to securing trash from bears is to establish communal trash enclosures that serve about 20 residences per enclosure (for more information on evaluating the effectiveness of waste management collection systems, visit the website). Due to challenges in identifying space for communal dumpsters in areas where bears most commonly access trash in Boulder, communal dumpsters are not listed as an option at this time.
  • Compliance and Enforcement of the Current Trash Ordinance:  Code enforcement patrols for violations and many are observed by an officer without being reported by a resident. Although Boulder requires residents and businesses to secure trash from animals, the ordinance is currently a reactive enforcement, once trash has already been scattered. The law has been difficult to enforce, because trash is often scattered by bears in the evening or early morning hours. When an incident is reported, the trash may have been cleaned up prior to the arrival of an officer, leaving no evidence of bear activity and thus preventing staff from issuing a warning or summons. In addition, the pilot area showed 20 percent of homes had trash violations observed by an officer. If that percentage of trash violations was extrapolated to the area of the city used by bears (view the Map of Trash Regulation Zone pdf), more than 2,000 residences would need to be contacted, exceeding current code enforcement staffing levels.
  • Bears Being Killed:  Community input has stressed the concern caused by the need to kill four bears in Boulder in 2013. City Council has also expressed the importance of securing trash to protect bears.
  • Cost:  While community members do not seem opposed to the use of bear resistant-containers, the city received feedback that additional monthly household costs are too expensive. Western Disposal, the trash hauler for the majority of city residents, may have to shoulder costs of changing trash and compost containers and services, and the city may have additional staffing costs for increased enforcement. See the "Potential Cost Impacts" section below for more information.

For more information, review the Analysis of Trash Storage Approaches to Deter Bears pdf.

F. Evaluation of Education and Law Enforcement as a Strategy to Improve Trash Storage 
The following four guiding questions were used in the Black Bear Education and Enforcement Pilot Program, and mid-program (2012) findings provide information about the effectiveness of education and law enforcement as a strategy to effect behavior change in how trash is stored.

1. Is education alone an effective strategy to positively impact how trash is stored?

No. The pilot showed there was a five percent difference between the number of trash violations at residences that had been contacted through door-to-door education versus residences that had not been contacted.

2. Does education followed by law enforcement positively impact trash storage behavior?

Yes. Behavior change was detected in three different aspects of the program:

  • Voluntary increase in the use of bear-resistant containers
    There was a significant increase in voluntary use of bear-resistant containers by Western Disposal customers, increasing from 24 percent at the beginning of the pilot program in April 2012, to 40 percent in October 2012.
  • Change in the pattern of putting out the trash the night before pick up
    Most residents who received warnings from law enforcement officers (58 percent) and all residents who received a court summons (100 percent) did not repeat the behavior of putting their unsecured trash out the night before pick up.
  • Appearance of fewer violations over time (and during peak urban bear activity)
    Throughout the focused law enforcement period (July to November), violations decreased from 24 to four.

3. If education and law enforcement do positively impact behavior, is the change significant enough to merit continuing with the approach as the primary strategy to address the problem of trash as an attractant to bears?

Maybe. Despite high levels of awareness and compliance by a majority of residents, unsecured trash of a minority of residents creates a significant attractant to bears. Approximately 20 percent of homes were not in compliance with current trash laws that specify that trash must be secured from bears. Though that percentage is relatively low, the number of residents that need to be contacted by law enforcement is significant: there are an estimated 12,436 residences in the area of Boulder that is frequented by bears (west of Broadway Avenue, south of Wonderland Lake, and north of the southern city limits). If the percentage of residences that experienced bear/trash conflicts in the pilot area was extrapolated to the area of the city frequented by bears, about 1,914 residences would need to be contacted by code enforcement officers.

4. Do current trash regulations adequately address the availability of trash to bears?

No. There are two major limitations of current trash regulations:

  • The current trash ordinance is reactive and not proactive 
    The current city ordinance requires trash, recycling, and compost to be stored in a manner that they are not overflowing, and their contents are not scattered by animals; and prohibits containers from being put outside prior to 5 a.m. the morning of pick up. Residences that have alley trash pickup are exempted from the latter requirement. The ordinance does not provide guidance about how trash must be stored so as to not be scattered by animals, and can only be enforced after trash has already been disturbed.
  • Enforcement of the trash ordinance requires an officer to serve a summons for the observed infraction directly to the resident or property owner.
    The limitations of this “direct serve” requirement are that contact may not be made if residents are not home during contact attempts, or that residents do not come to the door when contact is being attempted.

2013 Black Bear Education & Law Enforcement Pilot Program Final Report pdf

G. Community Evaluation of Ordinance Options
City Council and staff considered the community's input while evaluating potential options for the location, storage, and enforcement of trash regulations to make food waste less accessible to bears.

City Council Meetings

Community Survey
From Nov. 22 to Dec. 23, 2013, the city collected feedback on options to secure trash and protect bears. Public feedback was collected via:

  • an online survey, completed by 302 people (see the Bears & Trash Survey Results pdf);
  • a public meeting on Dec. 9, 2013 (attended by 29 community members); and
  • 57 direct emails received by staff.

H. Scientific Research Supports the Ordinance
A peer-reviewed scientific study published in the May 2014 issue of  Ursus  (a journal of the nonprofit International Association for Bear Research and Management) concluded that bears readily adapt their dietary habitats in response to the availability of food sources. Researchers found that garbage was a significant food source for bears in Yellowstone National Park until the park made its trash cans bear-resistant and closed nearby landfills. Once trash was no longer accessible, the bears changed their diet to include more grasses, insects, forbs, berries, fish and mammals.


To sign up for email updates, select the Wildlife Plan Emails mailing list.

Val Matheson 
Urban Wildlife Conservation Coordinator
[email protected] .