In a series of articles regarding bear management, The Free Press spoke to representatives from a variety of municipalities, all of which also face the issue of bears, including Canmore, Whistler, Revelstoke, Castlegar and Fernie. This week’s article is centred on garbage management.
The town, which has a population of 12,288, had an ongoing saying that you could not go into back alleys at night because of the amount of bears that were there. This quickly changed as the town introduced bear proof garbage containers and implemented bylaws and design guidelines that have gone to significantly reduce interactions between bears and humans in the towns limits.
Canmore Bear Aware Program Coordinator, Lori Rissling Wynn, believes that one of the most useful tools for stopping human-bear interactions is their garbage disposal system and a bylaw that backs it up.
“One of the big things is the fact that we have bear proof garbage containers. I don’t know what Fernie has, but we don’t have regular curbside pick up or back alley pick up of waste. Everything has to be in a bear proof container, whether that is residential or commercial and mixed use,” she said. “That is in our land use bylaw and our engineering and design guidelines. Any proposed development has to describe how they are going to deal with their waste and then it has to be to our specifications, which are the bear proof bins.”
While many communities have their developers adhere to their plant ban lists, Canmore also has its developers build bear proof design and waste removal into their developments.
“Either developers get them serviced themselves through a private company or we will do it and set a utility account up for doing the collection. Typically it is their responsibility to provide the bin and provide a place for the bin to go,” Rissling Wynn said.
Canmore has also placed a recycling container beside each garbage bin and made it difficult to put garbage anywhere else. Rissling Wynn believes that “we have attempted to make it as convenient as possible so people have to bring their waste to those bins.”
Taking away the ability to put garbage elsewhere is an effective way of ensuring people use the bins properly and since the bins were introduced there has been a drastic reduction of bears in Canmore.
“There is really nowhere else to put it. So having a mechanism to ensure that the waste is dealt with was a huge thing. Prior to us doing [the waste management], of course we had a lot more bears in town. Once we phased that in – and I believe it was in the early 90s, it dealt with a huge percentage of our issues.”
Revelstoke, a municipality of 7,219 people, implemented a very successful bear proof garbage pilot project a number of years ago that saw a drastic decrease of human wildlife encounters within the pilot area. The reduction numbers were so good that the city budgeted to implement the pilot throughout Revelstoke. The Free Press spoke with Sue Davies, the Community Coordinator Revelstoke Bear Aware about how the pilot went and why the pilot was never implemented city-wide.
Seven years ago, Revelstoke initiated a pilot project in one of its suburbs. The area received 50 bear-resistant garbage bins to reduce bear-human interactions. The pilot was highly successful according to Davies.
“In 2009 a pilot project was run in a suburb called Johnson Heights. BearSaver polycarts were distributed to around 50 residents in this stand alone suburb, which had previously high rates of bear conflict. Conflict with bears decreased to essentially nil after the bins were deployed,” she said.
According to Davies, the polycarts also brought problems for the city.
“The bins that were chosen had a self locking mechanism which proved to be problematic with Revelstoke’s freeze thaw cycles and the bins have been removed and replaced with a centralized bear proof garbage container in this suburb,” she said.
After the pilot proved so successful in reducing bears in the city, Revelstoke budgeted to implement the pilot city-wide. It was delayed shortly after due to the downturn in the economy.
“The city did make a budget of $55,000 to roll out these carts across the city. However, an economic downturn at the time meant that the roll out was delayed and then the issues with the locking mechanism on the polycarts started to become apparent so the city decided not to proceed,” she said.
Davies also points out that many other municipalities use a different locking system on their bins that seems to work much better in the winter conditions.
“Other municipalities have rolled out similar bear resistant bins, but with bear clips instead of the auto locking lid that was tried here and they have been successful,” she said. “However, Revelstoke experiences very heavy snows and there is concern that the automatic lifter arm on a garbage truck required to empty these bins would not be compatible with our climate.”
Whistler is the only municipality designated as Bear Smart that was interviewed for this series and is one of only five in B.C. The area has a population of 9,800 and sees more than two million visitors each year. The town does not have garbage pick up, something that is becoming more common in areas that have problems with aggressive wildlife such as bears. This is cited as a major contributor to the areas comparatively low yearly human bear confrontation numbers.
Instead of curbside pick up, Whistler uses transfer stations that are set up in two locations. The town has also implemented a pickup program where volunteers will pick up a person and their garbage and drive them to a transfer station to ensure everyone has the ability to properly dispose of their garbage.
“We don’t have garbage pickup, which is a bit of a challenge for us because what you have to do is go to the transfer station,” said the Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “There is one at the centre of town and there is one at the south of town, but if you don’t have a car, you can’t take your garbage on the bus. So we actually have volunteers through our Get Bear Smart society who you can call and they will come and pick you up with your garbage so you can go and dispose of it, rather than piling it up inside your front hall.”
Wilhelm-Morden also pointed out that the majority of the problems come from existing residents or seasonal workers, the bulk of those problems are due to improper disposal or storage of garbage.
“Interestingly enough, most of our problems with bear human conflict are with locals, with long term residents or transient seasonal workers – not disposing of garbage properly, storing it in the front hall of their house without locking their doors or keeping it in their cars,” she said.
Castelgar has a population of 7,816 and is built on a waterway crossroad where the Kootenay River flows into the Columbia River, providing a funnel point for bears and wildlife. Recently, Castlegar introduced a new garbage program that is aimed to reduce waste and human-bear conflict. The Free Press spoke with Castlegar’s WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Jenny Wallace about the city’s garbage program. Castlegar is also pursuing Bear Smart status in hopes of becoming one of the few communities in B.C. to be a part of the program.
Castlegar introduced a new garbage disposal program. The program had many new facets and goals; one was to curb bear-human interaction by reducing the incentive for bears to enter the city limits by having bear resistant garbage containers.
“This month [April], the city rolled out a brand new Solid Waste and Recycling program designed to increase waste diversion and meet the city’s waste reduction goals. Part of this new program was the provision of bear-resistant wheeled carts to every household in the city,” she said.
Wallace believes that the new bins, along with continued education and support will go to further reduce human-bear conflict in Castlegar.
“The Wildlife Attractant Bylaw still regulates the proper storage of garbage between collection days, but these bear resistant locks will help ensure bears do not access easy meals,” she said.
If anyone understands the garbage situation in Fernie, it is Dom Guzzi, who is the refuse collector with Southeast Disposal. He is responsible for picking up all of the curbside garbage throughout Fernie.
“There is a big mess in this town, take it from me, I see this town all of the time. Every day of the week I see this town, and it is not a very clean town. People have to have respect for the garbage,” said Guzzi.
He is happy about the amendment to the waste management bylaw prohibiting plastic bags from curbside pickup. Although he admits that it may not stop bears, he believes it is a step in the right direction. Guzzi hopes that the newly introduced bylaw will be enforced.
“Sure, put everything in a bag and put it in a garbage can and put the lid on it, sure that is going to save a lot but it is not going to stop a bear going into your garbage can. But it is going to help and that is what I want to see. I want to see garbage cans everywhere,” he said.
Guzzi suggests that Fernie looks to Elkford as an example of how a local community deals with garbage.
“What I told the city is that you should tell the Mayor and Council to hop in a van and take a ride to Elkford, they will show you how it’s done,” he said. “They have the big bear proof bins, the machine goes by and grabs it and dumps it and away you go. There is nothing on the ground whatsoever. Elkford is cleaner than Fernie, Sparwood is cleaner than Fernie, Elko is cleaner than Fernie. Fernie is not very clean at all and I am disappointed with the people. Because there is no respect for garbage and that is what is going to cause a kid to get killed by a bear.”
Guzzi is currently under contract with Southeast Disposal. He says that if Fernie were to get bear bins, a new truck that has specific bear bin unloading capabilities would need to be purchased.
“They would have to buy one. That’s why I can’t do anything about it, if they said, let’s go change it, I would say yes, let’s buy a new truck. But I can’t.” He went on to suggest, “have the containers on standby and once they get a truck, then distribute all of these containers to everybody in Fernie. One per house, that’s it. That is all you need, really.”
While communal dumpsters have been implemented in other communities, he believes that they would not work in Fernie because of people’s current curbside habits.
“You can’t eliminate it because it’s been here [for so long] – people would go nuts. There would be 5,000 people standing outside of City Hall because of it,” he said. “Curbside pickup – that is always going to happen here in Fernie. If we got the big containers, that would solve a whole bunch of problems. It’s easy to say but you have got to get the truck, you have to get the containers.”
He is not alone; there are many people in Fernie looking to be more proactive in human-bear interaction mitigation. Some, like BearAware Community Coordinator Kathy Murray, have been vocal about garbage reform for a decade.
Murray believes that if someone chooses to live in prime wildlife habitat, then they should choose to do their best to mitigate aggressive wildlife interactions.
Along with Guzzi, Murray believes that curbside collection will not leave Fernie in her lifetime, so the communal dumpsters like Canmore uses would be poorly received by the town and would not work well in some tight proximity neighbourhoods such as the Annex.
“That is a great option for I think some parts of Fernie – Mountain View or the Airport, Alpine Trails, Ridgemont – the outside perimeter where there is more space,” she said.
According to Murray, “there is no one perfect solution.” She thinks that the human factor will always add a margin of error.
“Let’s say in an ideal world, we convert 1,200 residences in Fernie, everyone gets this bear resistant container with the bear lock bar, all of a sudden everyone is like I can keep my garbage outside,” she said. “Maybe they forget to latch it down or they forget to unlatch it before the truck comes down to pick it up. Then the driver has to get out every single time and undo each clasp, and that adds time and that adds money.”
The cost to fully transition to bear bins would not be cheap, according to Murray.
“To switch right across the board, it’s about $200 per container and I think it’s 1200 residences, it would be $240,000 plus the upgrade to the truck, it has to be an automated system with a fork,” she said. “I don’t know how much that costs. Let’s say $500,000. If this comes up on a new line on the budget, you are looking at $500,000. For every $50,000 that is spent, I believe it’s a one per cent increase in property taxes. So for that, it’s 10 per cent. That’s rough math. For that to happen in one year, that is not realistic.”
Like Guzzi, Murray believes that Elkford is on the right track.
“I talked with them four years ago and they have 25 cans with the bear lock bar, and they were given to people who were in high conflict areas who didn’t have garages,” she said.”
“They had the cans first and now I think they are up to 40 cans. Down the road they want to get the entire town [on them]. It’s a good way to do it. It would be nice if it was a little faster and they had a few more cans, but you know, that’s a good start.”
Guzzi believes that people and the city will only make drastic changes in their garbage habits after a tragic event.
“They are going to do something about it when somebody gets killed. We need to do something about it now,” he said.