Project to keep bears out of garbage begins this week

Nicole Tattum is a garbage lady, but not in the way you might expect. She’s spent the past few weeks being “the crazy person” going up and down Finch Crescent in Copper Ridge with a garbage cart talking to people.

Nicole Tattum is a garbage lady, but not in the way you might expect.

She’s spent the past few weeks being “the crazy person” going up and down Finch Crescent in Copper Ridge with a garbage cart talking to people about how they dispose of their waste, she said. But there’s a serious reason why she’s spending so much time talking about trash.

She’s trying to recruit 50 people to put locks on their city garbage carts. The locks are free.

It’s all part of a pilot project by WildWise Yukon, a not-for-profit group Tattum helped start last November. The group aims to teach Yukoners how to reduce human-wildlife interactions. The group wants to see if this project can help lower the number of bear conflicts in Whitehorse. Eventually, they want to see a lock on every garbage bin.

So far, 47 people have signed up for the project.

The program runs until the end of the fall. Locks will be installed on the carts this week by Yukon Youth Conservation Corps members.

The only requirements are that participants put their garbage at the curb on the morning of collection, not the night before. And that they unlock the carts before the garbage trucks come so city workers don’t have to get out of their trucks to unlock the carts.

Finch Crescent was chosen because it’s near a greenbelt, and bears can access it easily. Participants will complete a survey and the city will use the results to help inform future waste-management strategies.

Last summer was a bad year for bears. Decreased berry crops and low salmon runs resulted in bears wandering into the city to find food. There were approximately 94 reported human-bear conflicts in the Whitehorse area from April to October.

And rummaging through garbage often proved deadly. Conservation officers had to shoot 16 bears. Another 17 were relocated. Members of the public killed five bears to protect themselves or their property. This year, there have been three bear incidents in Whitehorse.

Tattum, who is from British Columbia, “was a little bit surprised” that no groups existed in Yukon to teach people how to reduce human-wildlife conflicts, she said. They’re common down south.

In many cities in British Columbia and Alberta, there are laws saying residents must put locks on their garbage cans, said Glenda Koh, city environmental coordinator. But the locks aren’t mandatory in Whitehorse yet, she said. Looking at changing the laws about waste management is on council’s radar, she said.

The city will look at the results of surveys to see how effective the locks were, and how easy they were for people to use, said Koh.

Environment Yukon hopes WildWise Yukon can provide “some creative solutions” and help reduce human-bear conflicts, said conservation officer Ken Knutson. The department spends a lot of time trying to teach people how to control their garbage so there are less human-wildlife conflicts. But people don’t always get the message and the department doesn’t have a lot of staff, he said. Responding to human-wildlife conflicts means officers can’t carry out their other duties.

“If (a bear) can’t get a reward, it’s got no reason to return,” said Knutson.

WildWise Yukon has 20 locks available for purchase at $50 each. People can get more information by emailing info@wildwise.ca or calling 667-7725.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at mgillmore@yukon-news.com