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Some two-dozen Juneau residents got free garbage cans for the summer on Thursday at the start of a test for bear-proofing.
About half of the 50 bear-resistant cans, or carts, were delivered to the Switzer Creek neighborhood as part of the Reinforced Tipper Cart Pilot Program.
"We hope it works, we hope people use it, and if it works we hope other people in the borough will use it," said Maria Gladziszewski, who handles special projects for the city.
The project is a joint effort by the city, the Alaska Fish and Game Department and Arrow Refuse. The program runs during bear season from April to October. Each agency contributed one-third to the cost of the $3,500 program, plus in-kind services.
When Fish and Game found out Arrow ordered the carts, it encouraged the company to use some for a pilot program, said wildlife education specialist Kristen Romanoff.
"We wanted people to have the opportunity to use them during bear season," she said.
Fish and Game and Alaska Audubon are part of a larger, similar test project started last summer on the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage. The carts have been effective against bears as long as residents latch them properly, Romanoff said.
The carts were tested against bears at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage in May of 2003 and found to be effective.
In Juneau, officials targeted the Switzer Creek neighborhood because of its proximity to a salmon creek, forest and lack of garages at many houses, they said.
"We know metal lids on dumpsters work," Gladziszewski said. "This is a similar technical fix for homeowners without a garage."
The carts will work best if residents secure them to a stationary object, she said.
Residents in the pilot program use the carts for free but pay for garbage pickup, Gladziszewski said. Afterward, they may rent a cart for $9.50 per month. Residents not in the program may rent carts from Arrow now. The rental cost is a lot cheaper than a $50 city bear attraction nuisance ticket, she said.
The city already has 96-gallon tipper carts in various locations, but those being tested have a metal reinforcer underneath the plastic lid, Gladziszewski said. The carts are designed to be lifted by a garbage truck instead of a human.
Romanoff and other Fish and Game officials plan to enroll more residents so the remainder of the carts can be distributed, she said. In return, they ask residents to provide comments about a bear's reaction to the cart as well as any problems. Romanoff is concerned bears may be able to unlatch the carts, but said officials have a plan to retrofit them if necessary.
Meanwhile, bear sightings have increased as hibernation comes to an end, Gladziszewski said. Residents must comply with a new Urban Bear Ordinance that takes effect April 19. It requires garbage can lids to be secured when placed at the curb on trash collection days. The fine is $50 for noncompliance.
Tara Sidor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org