Rubbish containers bearing up

But are they really bear-proof? Only more testing will tell

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2004

Rob Branham said he likes bears.

"I just don't want them in my trash," the Douglas Island resident said.

But with his garbage in 96-gallon, bear-resistant tipper carts, Branham said watching a bear unsuccessfully try to get into the container this spring proved to be great entertainment.

"I think they work great," he said of the containers. "It's been tested three times that I know of. They can't get in."

Arrow Refuse has distributed at least 150 of the Toter Corp. containers throughout Juneau, said Glen Thompson, general manager of the parent company, Alaska Pacific Environmental Services. "Maybe 200," he said.

Fifty went out in April as part of a pilot program, with Arrow Refuse picking up half of the rental and the city and Alaska Department of Fish and Game picking up the other for this bear season.

The Toters are the latest development in bear-proof trash container, with tops that latch securely in place, and they are expensive, Thompson said. Arrow rents them for $9.50 a month or $99.99 for a year.

"We've been a bit overwhelmed by the demand," he said.

Thompson said he tells people the containers haven't been tested yet, but the word of mouth has been so good and so widespread that two customers have asked for them in Ketchikan, which has bear issues of its own.

Neil Barten, local wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said he likes what he has heard from people who have tried out the containers.

Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer in the city manager's office, said she is encouraged by the reports from the pilot program and hopes the container can prove a help to people who don't have garages.

The containers hold three times more trash than standard 32-gallon containers, and have wheels so they easily can be rolled to the curb. Garbage trucks pick up the tippers and dump the content inside, Thompson said. Someone might be able to buy a tipper for $250 to $300, he said, but people renting them can have them replaced if they are damaged by the trucks.

Makenna Rielly, who lives in the Switzer area, said the container she received in the pilot program was too big for her enclosure for garbage between collections, but she has been pleased with its bear resistance.

She described a fat black bear that appeared to be too well fed for an animal not long out of hibernation. It couldnt pull the lid off her container and it moved on.

You could tell it was used to tipping them over (with more success), she said.

Gladziszewski said the tipper containers also address the problem of bears getting into garbage on collection day after 4 a.m., the earliest that residents are allowed to take out trash.

Branham said he knows the containers are strong. The bear he saw stomping on his weighed perhaps 300 pounds.

Barten said it is too early to tell if the containers will be the ultimate answer to local bears raiding peoples garbage in the city. A bigger test will come late in the summer.

Were still kind of keeping our eye on it and keeping our fingers crossed, he said.

Gladziszewski - who works with Fish and Game, Arrow Refuse and police in an informal bear committee said the containers may be the latest step in dealing with the problem of bears that raid peoples garbage. Juneau has been a national leader in implementing laws to deal with bear problems, she said.

When garbage isnt out for collection, people are required to keep it in a bear-resistant enclosure if they dont have such a container. New this year is a requirement to secure the lid on containers so it doesnt pop off if the can is tipped over.

Even if bears lost all access to garbage, people still will have to vigilant, Barten said. Bears could get into the barbecue grill, a bird feeder or a bag of dog food left on the porch.

Its always going to be an education issue, Gladziszewski said.

Barten said education also applies to bears. Bears learn and they are smart, he explained. When a sow with her cubs visits trash cans, swats them over to pop the lids and finds sweet table scraps with treats like pizza and ketchup, the cubs learn that garbage raiding can be easier and more satisfying than foraging.

Theyre just like us, Barten said. They like junk food, too.

He added that bears elsewhere have learned to do things he wouldnt want to see them learn in Juneau.

In Yosemite, bears have figured out how to get into cars, he said.

A bear could rip out the back seat for a bag of potato chips, he added.

Some Juneau bears have been successful in getting into garages to reach trash, he said. Some bears pose such a problem that they have to be dealt with, and moving them has proven not to work.

Last July, Juneau police shot an aggressive glacier bear in the Thunder Mountain area in the Mendenhall Valley. Residents had photographed it earlier in the day boldly getting into garbage.

Barten remembers when bear problems were much worse. Five or six years ago, bear raids of refuse near Gastineau Avenue were common, he said.

But with more secure community trash bins and less assessable garbage from individual residents, who are restricted on when they can put the trash out, the area isnt the bears honey hole it used to be.

If trash becomes less accessible, fewer bears will grow up learning the behavior, he added.

Rielly said that after the pilot program is over, she plans to get a tipper, and is looking to the containers to help in the future.

Once bears learn theyre not going to get into it, they can go back to the natural stuff, she said. I care about bears. I dont want to see them get shot.

Tony Carroll can be reached


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