Building containers that bear up

Residents turn to chain-link fence, concrete to keep bears out of garbage

Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2001

With the city about to crack down on residents who don't keep their trash away from bears, residents are gearing up with new containers that rival Fort Knox in security.

Richard Lyon, for example, has turned to concrete and quarter-inch aluminum plate.

"I cut my teeth on the Bonneville Dam pouring tens of thousands of yards of concrete," said Lyon, who works in construction.

Consequently, making a form for and mixing up half a yard of "mud" for a container to hold his three trash cans was a piece of cake. The inside of his container measures 6 feet by 28 inches, with a recycled sheet of quarter-inch-thick diamond-plate aluminum as the cover. Lyon plans to decorate the plywood front with the same blue shingle cutouts he has applied in horizontal courses to his recently expanded 1909 house.

Lyon, 49, has lived near Evergreen Cemetery for 13 years and seasonal bears have been a constant.

"I used to tell my wife Joy when the kids still used car seats, 'Take the kids in first, then go get the groceries.' You can always replace the groceries."

For a while, the garbage cans were corralled at the roadside with a simple band of 1-by-3s to keep them from blowing away. That left them vulnerable to raiding as soon as they were put out for Wednesday refuse collection.

A couple of years ago, Lyon installed motion-activated lights on the exterior of the house, which made him feel safer. But bear activity in 2000 convinced him to take further action: "Last year I hit a bear with a rock driving it away from our garbage. I also threw a Sleeping Beauty thermos bottle belonging to my daughter and drove a bear away from our bunny rabbit. And my son, 12, met a bear on the steps outside the rec room."

Those incidents, plus the eventual devouring of the bunny, not to mention a bear in a tree during a visit from his mother, spurred Lyon to mix a little concrete a couple of weeks ago. He estimates anyone could duplicate his creation for about $200.

Wooden sheds don't always stand up to hungry bruins, he said. "If they can get a claw in, they tear it apart. But I don't have to worry about it any more; concrete lasts 100 years," he said with satisfaction, showing off a concrete chicken coop now in the works.

Bears who have access to garbage return again and again and may become "habituated" to humans and a public nuisance. In the long run, garbage can "kill" bears because the nuisance bears will have to be shot to keep people from potential harm.

At its May 21 meeting, the Juneau Assembly approved a new ordinance that will take effect June 21 that makes it a misdemeanor to attract bears. Improperly storing waste is an infraction. Residents are encouraged to use bear-resistant containers, but are not expected to make them bear-proof. A bear-resistant container was defined as preventing access by a person "using neither hands nor tools."

Attracting a bear could bring a $100 fine for the first violation, $250 for the second. A person who improperly stores waste would face a $25 fine for a first violation.

In the ongoing battle to keep Juneau's black bear population separate from jam jars, meat wrappers, fish heads and sour cream containers, heavy chain-link fence enclosures, securely anchored, are another possibility. Northwind Fence sells and manufactures these in residential dimensions. They resemble small dog runs, with the addition of a matching chain-link cover and lock.

"We build them to specifications," said Jon Joralemon, owner of Northwind. "We weld all our steel pipe. We have done condominium-size ones with a roof. They can be portable so you can move them with you, or they can be set into the ground, which is more permanent."

A two-can size, with both bottom and top, would cost about $200, Joralemon said, depending on design. "If it's not set into the ground, a bear can still tip it over, but he can't get to the garbage," he said.

Another installer is Roadrunner Fence Co., which has a chain-link enclosure on display outside its office on Commercial Boulevard near Costco. The enclosures measure 3-by-8 feet, said owner Phil Dozier, and cost $500.

"We can dig a hole and anchor the fence posts in concrete," Dozier said. "We have sold several, and they seem to be working pretty good."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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