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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Are your garbage cans bear proof?

Do you live in bear country? Will the wild bear get in your garbage can and scatter trash all over the place?

You bet she will. And she'll make it a habit if you reward her by doing the same dumb thing over again. She'll teach her cubs that garbage cans are bountiful providers.

Yes, we can call Cal Fish & Game, and they'll remove the offending bear. They'll 'off' repeat offenders. For bears, it's only two strikes and you're out. If I may paraphrase Pogo "the enemy are us".

We live close to a large wilderness area, and God willing, the bears will be here for a long time. They quickly adapted to our presence. We need to use our heads and adapt to theirs. I know that bears are smart, and I know they are strong, but most people are smarter.

Some of my readers here on the ridge have bear problems. We did too. We kept our garbage in the garage until garbage collection day. That didn't solve the problem, because the garbage man comes early in the morning. Old people don't like to start the day wrestling garbage cans. We prefer to eat mush and sip coffee peacefully in the morning. That's why we put the garbage out the night before morning collection.

So I wrote a letter to Waste Management, introduced myself as a wildlife biologist, blew a little smoke about their reputation as environmentally sensitive recyclers, and suggested they address the bear problem by scheduling garbage pickup later in the day. It was a terribly logical and compelling letter. Bears don't bother garage cans very often in the heart of the burbs. Out here on the frontier they do. Why not just reschedule the pickup in light of that undeniable fact.

Waste Management thanked me for my concern, and told me they couldn't reschedule. Had I thought of buying a bear proof garbage can?

Picking up bear-scattered garbage however is a wonderful motivator, and "need is the mother of invention". So my neighbor Richard and I tried an experiment. We wired our garbage cans with alarms. When you lift the lid the alarm goes off.

Earlier this year a new contractor took over garbage collection and we had to re-arm the new garbage containers. I took pictures of the operation, and you can read how it is done here.

As an added measure I attached a couple pieces of velcro to the container. A little ammonia spray doesn't smell like food to bears.

I know the bears are still here, and I am not saying the alarms are 100% effective. But we haven't had any bears in our garbage for a long time now.

If the bear ups the ante, we'll go back to the drawing board.


Jackie said...

That alarm set up looks interesting. I always keep my kitchen window closed at night, even during summer when air would be nice, just in case a bear wanders by. Bruin in the house would not be good. So, since you seem to live where bears are more abundant, do you keep windows closed at night too? Or have you put alarms on window screens? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add that not only is rural waste management a wildlife issue, I've seen problems in even the most urban areas as well.

If one were to visit any apartment building in a city that allows waste cans to remain open, he would find that tese waste cans provide a significant source of food for house sparrows. I've seen 10-15 feeding in large dumpsters at a time. Yet oddly, in our country it is OK to slay a native species, but I am sure someone offing house sparrows would be villified as "uncivilized".

Camera Trap Codger said...

Zhakee, We use "natural air conditioning", so leave screened bedroom windows open in the heat of summer. These are a too high for a bear to climb. With all the smoke from the fires the house is sealed.

Anon, Good point. Not to mention rats and other dumpster divers.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of rats, you guys have to read this article I just found.

Anonymous said...

the only problem that people have with bears is when they have been feeding the bears(including bird feeders). Then the problem escalates because bears remember from year to year where the food is at that time of the year. Also they communicate between each other to find what the others are eating. Bears really don't bother us unless 1) they are being fed (or have been in the past), or 2) there is a really bad food year, in which case they rarely will bother humans. I guaranteee the main problem in this equation are the humans! (which is what you said). On another note...................I bet the waste management people got a nice surprise when they open up your garbage every morning. I bet they let the new guy do it every time :)