City looks Outside for bear proofing tips

It's not a good year to be a bear. As of Aug. 14, 19 bears have been killed this summer in Whitehorse. Conservation officers had to kill 14 of them. Members of the RCMP or the public killed the other five.

It’s not a good year to be a bear.

As of Aug. 14, 19 bears have been killed this summer in Whitehorse.

Conservation officers had to kill 14 of them. Members of the RCMP or the public killed the other five.

Garbage remains the main cause of these conflicts.

While conservation officers urge residents to keep trash locked up until garbage day, city officials are looking at how other places in bear country have prevented human-bear run-ins.

In some places, that’s meant removing curb-side garbage pickup altogether.

It’s never existed in Whistler, B.C., said Sylvia Bolton, executive director of Get Bear Smart society. Based out of Whistler, the non-profit’s work has influenced bear management policies across North America.

As a result of its programs, the group says the number of conflicts with bears has been cut in half over the last decade.

In Whistler, people drop their garbage and compost at bear-proof disposal sites.

Similarly, in Canmore, Alta., there is one large, metal, bear-proof bin for every 30 houses, said Bolton. Besides reducing bear problems, these bins have also reduced garbage-collection costs, she said.

A similar system exists in Faro, where residents dispose of their garbage in large metal bins scattered around the community. The containers have a bear-proof latch on the top.

There are also drop-off bins for personal garbage at the landfill, which, like Whitehorse’s, is surrounded by an electric fence. Usually bears are not a problem in Faro, although one did manage to get into the landfill this year, said Tim Lie, the town’s chief administrative officer.

The metal containers have been used for about a decade, he said. There is a container not too far from where Lie lives, and he doesn’t notice a smell until he opens the lid, he said.

The wheeled garbage and compost containers used in Whitehorse were introduced across the city in 2009. They were described as odour-resistant.

When asked if the city would consider removing curb-side waste collection altogether, Cable said problems that may arise from bear-proof disposal sites would need to be assessed.

Other municipalities use other methods. In Port Coquitlam, B.C., individuals either buy a bear-proof lock for their garbage carts or store their carts inside a bear-proof structure until collection time. It is mandatory for residents to bear-proof their carts.

The system was introduced a few years ago to address the problem of bears getting into garbage, and it has meant fewer public complaints, said Gord Voncina, a city manager.

Garbage in Whitehorse must not be set out in a way that attracts wildlife, according to the city’s waste management bylaw. Carts in Whitehorse must be placed outside of structures, fences and other enclosures for collection. Lids on composting carts must be fully closed.

Making bins bear-proof is difficult, said Bolton. It’s taken many years for companies to develop bear-proof totes that work with automated-lift garbage trucks.

In Bolton’s opinion, the best thing to do is to buy new bear-proof bins, she said. Putting locks on bins that may not be bear-resistant may seem like a simple solution, but is “not a good solution at all,” she said.

Changes may need to be introduced gradually, she said. It’s best for cities to begin with areas on the perimeter, or those closer to greenbelt areas.

Territorial conservation officers agree, said Cable. The city hopes to have a plan ready for next year, she said.

In the meantime, residents can only continue to bear-proof their garbage as much as possible. This means keeping smelly items indoors, and being aware that bears aren’t just drawn to garbage for food. Barbecues and moosehides may also attract them.

Some factors are harder to control: Late berry crops and lower salmon runs this year have decreased bears’ food supplies.

The problems Whitehorse faces this year are not a reflection of the conservation officers, said Bolton. She speaks with them often, she said. “I know these guys are doing whatever they can.”

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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