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Police Chief Sheldon Schmidt told the assembly Tuesday night (8-10-10) that the department had fielded 120 nuisance bear calls so far this summer.
Schmidt thought the ordinance, though flawed, should remain on the books. He said it was one part of a process designed by the bear working group to make the town more bear-friendly.
“I think we’re making progress. I don’t think this ordinance is perfect – in fact it’s largely unenforceable. But you have to understand that the task force wanted education to be part of their overarching strategy, with enforcement being a part of it, bear-resistant containers another. My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t just throw out the ordinance and go back to the drawing board.”
A trial of some bear-resistant latching systems by captive animals at the Fortress of the Bear last month was an admitted failure. Schmidt urged the assembly to reconstitute the bear working group for more study on the issue.
Public works director Michael Harmon said that the engineers in his department had produced a pamphlet on responsible behavior toward bears, but it hadn’t been distributed yet outside of city hall. He said much more education could be done for residents, and in schools. He called the pamphlet “The tip of the iceberg.”
Mayor Scott McAdams suggested that if education really were the priority of the bear working group, then the reconstituted membership should include a teacher.
“Developing a curriculum is a specialized skill set. I appreciate that engineers aren’t educators – we wouldn’t want necessarily an educator designing a bridge. This is a professional skill set that people go to school to learn how to do.”
Chief Schmidt said that in other southeast communities where nuisance bear ordinances were more effective, the Department of Fish & Game played a large role in education.
Assembly member Cheryl Westover suggested that neighbors could educate each other when they discovered bear problems. When she recommended that neighbors also support police efforts to enforce the ordinance, she and Schmidt had this exchange.
“I have no issue with reporting a neighbor if it’s a continual breaking of the ordinance. Neighbors policing neighbors is how you do this. Schmidt – At the beginning of this bear season we met with Fish & Game and developed a strategy, and it was exactly that, Cheryl. We were going to contact people if we had a report, or if we were in a neighborhood on a bear call and it was obvious that they were being brought in by the garbage, we were going to document it, talk to the owners, then forward that documentation to Fish & Game where they would follow up with an educational contact. That’s how we’ve gone about it this year and so far, no one’s repeated. So that’s why we haven’t issued any citations.”
Schmidt added that just because no citations have been issued didn’t mean that the ordinance didn’t work. He felt the verbal warnings authorized by the ordinance were effective, even though they limited the law’s enforceability.
The chief told the assembly he would meet with Fish & Game to bring the bear working group back together.
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