This bear was killed by conservation officers July 1 after feeding on compost and garbage in the Copper Ridge subdivision. (Yukon Conservation Officer Services/Facebook)

Whitehorse waste bins a ‘smorgasbord’ for bears, conservation officials say

Bear killed in Copper Ridge had gotten used to easy meals from compost containers

Easy access to garbage and compost bins directly contributed to the recent death of a bear in the Copper Ridge subdivision, conservation officials say.

The bear had been going house to house, flipping open bins and feeding from them, said conservation officer Aaron Koss-Young, who was “heavily involved” in the case.

Koss-Young said officers tried to deter the animal with rubber bullets first, but that didn’t work. The bear had grown so bold that it was “walking around the street in broad daylight,” he said. Because it had received “significant food rewards” officials were forced to kill it July 1 in the name of public safety.

Part of the problem — both in this case and generally — is that the bins provided by the city are not bear proof, Koss-Young said, a factor which “definitely” contributed to the death of the animal in Copper Ridge.

“It’s absolutely unusual in our current culture that we have a (bin) design like this,” he said.

“As soon as these bins are tipped over they are a smorgasboard. Once a bear has accessed this quality of food nothing in the world would stop them from seeking it out again.”

This isn’t just an issue in urban and suburban communities, Koss-Young said. Garbage storage facilities in rural areas are also often not bear proof, he said. In fact, they are often little more than plywood bins, leading them to be called, colloquially, “bear snack packs.”

Bear-proof bins — which have a locking mechanism that prevent them from being opened, even when knocked over — run around $900 apiece, Koss-Young said.

“It’s a simple solution if communities would invest in bear-proof bins,” he said. “It’s a one-time investment and it would save a lot of wildlife.”

“If the bins were bear-proof — and people were compliant — it would be a different story.”

Compliance is something Heather Ashthorn, executive director of WildWise Yukon, would like to see more of. In 2013 and 2014, WildWise ran a campaign distributing kits that bear-proofed compost bins. When they surveyed residents who installed the kits afterwards, she said, they found “a very low level of compliance, less than 50 per cent.” Basically, people weren’t using the closures even though they were installed.

“I think it’s futile to blame the bins on the city — they’re not into (upgrading) them right now,” she said. “I think it’s important to engage people to be responsible to manage their attractants.”

Jackie Taylor, the environmental coordinator for the city, said that bins should be set out at the curb by 7 a.m. on pickup days, and no earlier than 6 p.m. the night before. She also suggested that residents store their garbage in their garage or other bear-proof storage area, not out in the open where animals can get at it.

Pictures of the bear, taken before it was killed, show the bear rooting through piles of trash amid knocked over bins, easily accessible in outdoor areas. The date the bear was killed, July 1, was a Saturday, which makes it unlikely that the bins had been placed at the curb for roadside pickup that morning.

“Residents living in bear country have a role to play in securing their waste responsibly,” Taylor said via email.

People are reluctant to place their waste in their garages, said Ashthorn, even though most homes in Copper Ridge have them.

“There’s this idea that garbage smells, that the smell might somehow get into the house,” Ashthorn said. “And it’s an extra step people don’t want to do…. We just adopt a certain way of doing things.”

“Honestly, we’re lazy.”

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

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