Got bears? Blame the bins

Whitehorse needs to consider a new system for waste collection

It’s not easy to state the obvious about those curbside carts in public, but conservation officer Aaron Koss-Young’s words shone like a beacon on the dark secret of our Wilderness City. The bins aren’t bear-proof, he said to the Yukon News. It’s “absolutely unusual” in our “current culture” to have a “design like this.” In other words, the bins are bear-feeders and, eventually, bear-killers.

As it happens, the Whitehorse Bear Hazard Assessment, released in 2015 and sponsored by the City of Whitehorse, the Yukon Government, and Wildwise Yukon, among others, says the same thing, at more length, and with data. The report is hiding in plain sight on the Wildwise site, and it’s worth seeking out, since we aren’t hearing about it otherwise.

The assessment records a sharp rise in bear encounters in Whitehorse starting in 2011, not long after the bin system was installed. It concludes with a recommendation that Whitehorse change its waste management system to one that’s bear-resistant, suggesting a “Haul-All” system for the entire city, where bear-resistant community bins are installed in central locations, or a combination of Haul-All and bear-resistant curbside bins of the type Aaron Koss-Young mentions.

“The single most important action a community can take to reduce conflict with bears is to implement a tested and certified bear-resistant waste management system” the report says.

What happened then? In April 2016 the Whitehorse Bear Working Group got together to discuss the report and though the waste management issue attracted the most participation, “most groups steered away from conversation about a new waste management system” because, it seems, city officials refused to even discuss revisiting the current program.

It doesn’t look like the city has much to worry about. For one thing, it seems that Wildwise Yukon and the Yukon News (going by recent editorials) are on-board with the Whitehorse strategy of laying the burden of responsibility on residents.

“[I]t’s futile to blame the bins on the city,” says Heather Ashthorn of Wildwise, who instead complains about the lack of compliance by residents who retrofitted bins with bear-resistant latching kits. But I can’t think of anything more futile than adding more moving parts to the poorly designed cart system and hoping that several thousand residents can comply with the growing to-do list the carts require to achieve marginal resistance to bears. In that, I find support in the Bear Hazard Assessment, which says “User error should not be a significant factor in the efficacy of the system.”

It’s disappointing that the City of Whitehorse chooses to ignore evidence that a system is failing. But this particular system attains tragic dimensions when wanton extermination of local bears is imminent — all for want of a northern strategy for a northern reality. It must take a tremendous toll on conservation officers, who want to protect wildlife.

Marianne Darragh

Whitehorse

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