SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Bears and Garbage
By Glen Thompson


September 25, 2007
Tuesday PM

Most Alaskan communities struggle with problems from animals getting into trash, making a mess and sometimes creating a dangerous or threatening situation to children and pets.

The problem is not limited to bears; birds and dogs are just as much problem but they weigh less and usually won't eat you.

Several years ago, in Juneau, Mayor Sally Smith created an ad hoc bear committee to address the problem. As manager of Arrow Refuse, I was asked to sit on that committee. At the time, Juneau was experiencing a perfect storm of bear problems: a biological population cycle peak combined with increased intrusion into bear habitat by humans (in a geographically limited area) and finally, an apparent unwillingness by some members of the community to be responsible for their garbage.

Juneau addressed this problem in stages. They mapped the areas where bear incursions were most severe.

They passed an ordinance requiring metal lids or impervious sheds for commercial dumpsters.

They passed an ordinance for residential units that mandated no garbage be left outside before 4 a.m. on scheduled pickup day unless in a bear-resistant container. Also, all garbage must be in properly maintained garbage cans.

They conducted a public education effort through local media and the schools.

Warnings and fines followed up these measures.

The results were mostly successful however the program was not without fairly substantial cost.

Replacing all the lightweight plastic dumpster lids with aluminum lids cost well over $200,000 and the bear resistant containers have cost nearly that much so far. Both of these expenditures are passed on to customers through utility rates. In addition, Juneau has two Community Service Officers (one who is dedicated pretty much full time) to deal with litter and animal/garbage problems so the cost of enforcement is ongoing and expensive.

For Ketchikan, mitigation through education and enforcement of our current ordinances would be a good start. I don't know if the Borough enforces the litter ordinance in town, I believe the City police are tasked with that effort.

Garbage and Bears: the collector's viewpoint:

Bears wake up in late April or early May and are HUNGRY. They are attracted to any potential food source by smell and habituation (learning). They are attracted to garbage, pet food and even birdseed and can smell food from a long ways off. Until the fish arrive in the creeks in July and the berry crop ripens, they will be causing a lot of problems. Again in September, when the fish are pretty much gone until they hibernate in October, there will be increased activity.

The best way to solve a problem with garbage bears is for EVERYBODY to take care of their trash! The easiest way is to sign up for weekly collection, (a shameless plug for my company here), but at the very least, get in the habit of REGULARLY dealing with your trash: the longer it sits the more it stinks.

If you are not keeping your cans inside somewhere except on garbage day, you are almost guaranteed to have a problem if you live anywhere close to the forest. If you have nowhere to keep them inside, for Pete's sake, install an enclosure of stout wood or better yet, chain-link fence. Bears are smart enough to know when "garbage day" is and what cans are normally left out overnight. This is why it is important to set your can out only in the morning of pickup day. Bears are mostly nocturnal and don't like human activity so putting the can out as late as possible minimize their "window of opportunity". Remember that the garbage company may not agree to enter an enclosure or remove cans for a box for safety reasons so you will have to make it reasonably accessible to the utility.

Bears like an easy meal. They are lazy and don't have a lot of time to waste on a properly secured can when an unsecured one might be available at the next driveway. We have seen this: one swipe, no result, move on

Having a can that requires hand manipulation or tools to open it is a good idea. Having a can that won't pop open if knocked over is paramount. Bungee cords to secure the lid help, but if you put them on so tight that the garbage collector gets snapped in the eye or the "nether" regions, you won't make any friends with them either. Remember, if you make it bear-proof, you likely just made it garbage-man proof as well. A happy medium is desired: secure enough that it won't come open if knocked around a bit, but quick and easy for humans to service.

One of the best methods to secure your trash is "stealth mode". Some bears know that a garbage can means an easy meal but not always They target the ones they can smell! So if you ALWAYS bags ALL your trash, and DOUBLE BAG the stinky stuff, they won't smell it and your can will stay clean. After a cursory look, usually they will leave your "clean" can for your neighbor's wonderful smelling, stinky one.

For "Yogi", who is smarter than the average bear as we all know, we need some further measures.

Putrescable garbage, anything that rots, like fish guts and meat carcasses, should be frozen and then bagged again. Remember that soiled, disposable diapers are considered "Hershey bars" by bears. You must kill the odor from these. Again, freezing and double bagging work well. If you have something particularly stinky or attractive, don't hang on to it, make a special trip to the landfill or drop it by Tongass Sanitation (M-F, 8-4).

Cleaning the can itself with ammonia or bleach (DON"T MIX THEM) will clean them and mask residual odors. It really doesn't do much good to put ammonia or bleach on the outside of the can or on the ground because it washes away and again, your garbage man won't be too pleased smelling like bleach or ammonia after handling your can.

OK, now you have secured your cans. Unless your neighbors do the same, your neighborhood will still look like Katrina just went through. If you have a problem with the neighbors that they ignore, contact Fish and Game and they can 'splain it to them that there is a healthy fine for attracting and/or feeding bears.

Don't expect F&G to do much to rid you of a problem bear if a) it is not being threatening (bears passing through are common) or b) you have created an attraction through neglect of intent. If a bear poses a threat to life or property (and your garbage can is not considered property), they can be destroyed. But if you kill a bear, plan on justifying your actions to the authorities who will take a dim view if you discharge a firearm within _ mile of Tongass Highway or shoot a bear with cubs, or shoot a bear out of season you get the idea.

In the end, it is up to us humans to be the dominant species, man-up and take care of the problem WE create by our sloth. Remember, Garbage Kills Bears.

Glen Thompson
Ketchikan, AK

Received September 25, 2007 - Published September 25, 2007



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