City officials are looking to test a new program in the city’s Indian River neighborhood. Instead of residents having individual garbage cans, residents would take their trash to a centralized location and put it in one of seven large, 300-gallon containers. The plan didn’t sit well with most of the dozen or so neighborhood residents who came to a meeting on the project Friday.
The containers are meant to be more resistant to bears than the smaller individual cans now used. The idea is that bears would be unable to get trash out of the cans and would no longer look to the Indian River neighborhood as a source of food. Currently, Indian River is one of three areas in the city that combined make up two-thirds of calls to police reporting bears.
Indian River resident Dallas Peavey says he doesn’t think there’s a need for change.
“We haven’t had any problems,” Peavey said. “Sure, a bear comes around sometimes. I’ve never had one get in my garbage at all. It is a few people that let their cans get overfilled, but I don’t understand why everybody down there has to deal with this. There are people that live off of Yaw Drive. What if they don’t have a vehicle? They’ve got to walk it down there?”
Peavey and other residents said they understood that a lot of calls come in from the Indian River neighborhood, but that other areas of town have a high frequency of bear problems, too. They said they felt singled out.
“We didn’t target anybody,” said Jim Dinley, Sitka’s municipal administrator. “That was never the intent, never the goal, never the objective. We’re saying: ‘Where do we put our best effort? Where’s the most traffic? Where do we get the most calls? Where do the bears go in the greatest number?’ So it’s not targeted, at all.”
One resident said it would be difficult for her to pack up her small children and get in the car just to take the trash out. And there were other concerns about children, too, especially when they’re the ones in the household taking out the trash. Rebecca Tomlinson addressed her concern to Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society and a member of the city’s bear working group.
TOMLINSON: “I don’t want to send my 9-year-old daughter somewhere where there’s going to be a whole bunch of bears, versus where she can just step out our door, put it in our can, and if there’s a bear, she’s never going to see it.”
THOMS: “I agree completely. And again, this is a test. If it becomes to the point that this is a hive for bears, then it’s not working. And we’re going to evaluate that.”
TOMLINSON: “How about you guys test that can again with deer carcass in it, instead of fruit and yogurt.”
She’s referring to a test the city conducted on March 9th at Fortress of the Bear. The two resident brown bears there, Chaik and Kilisnoo, tried unsuccessfully for more than 40 minutes to break in to one of the new cans. Residents at Friday night’s meeting said the bait — fruit and yogurt — wasn’t enticing enough, that the bears are lethargic in the winter, and fed every day by caretakers, so therefore not as motivated to get into a can. But bear biologist Phil Mooney, interviewed immediately after the test, said the bears gave it a pretty good shot, and in a real-world scenario, likely would have moved on after a much shorter period.
“Most of the bears that come into Sitka, they’re hit-and-run bears,” Mooney said on March 9. “They knock over a trash can, they grab something and run. Unless you’re going to something that’s purely metal, that they can’t pry open, that they can’t tear open with their claws or with their teeth, you’re looking at something that’s bear resistant.”
Bears are intelligent animals, Mooney says, and learn easily. Right now, they’ve learned trash cans are food sources. The goal is to change that behavior, he says.
But of course humans learn, too, and form habits. Resident Lara Ash worried that her neighbors whose habits are bad — who don’t take care of their trash in a way that discourages bears from getting into it — will be hard to change.
“The bear issue is an issue,” Ash said. “We don’t want to attract them into the neighborhoods for the protection of people in the neighborhood, and the bears, but I just have this feeling that if people aren’t doing what they’re doing with their trash as it is, expecting people to walk that long distance isn’t going to happen.”
About a dozen representing seven households attended the meeting to offer feedback. And their views ranged from vehement opposition to the plan, to a desire to make the plan better.
Dinley, with the city, says he wonders whether that’s an accurate representation of the neighborhood, which has about 100 households in it. But he also says the city never expected 100-percent support.
“Yeah, if we’d had the perfect answer we wouldn’t have had any reason to hold the meeting,” Dinley said. “We could have just done it and everyone would have said ‘Hey, great idea!’ Well, it just works better if they know the steps you’re in and how you got there, and (you) listen to their suggestions. I thought we did well tonight.”
Dinley says the comments from the neighbors — both verbal and written — will be weighed before any further action is taken.