By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Wyoming wildlife advocacy group is offering free bear-proof trash cans to the residents of Teton County in an attempt to cut down on bear encounters that could potentially turn fatal.
The new program, known as Jackson Hole Bear Solutions, was launched by Wyoming Wildlife Advocates on Monday in an attempt to reduce the number of bears being lured by the scent of garbage into areas frequented by humans.
The worldwide-popularity of grizzly 399 and her four cubs have made the issue of bear survival in human-populated areas explosive.
While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have warned the public that bears which get into trouble may suffer consequences such as hazing, relocation, and euthanasia, bear activists argue preventive measures are preferable.
Under this program, special trash cans that block the scent of garbage and resist bears’ attempts to open them will be provided to any resident or business in Teton County, regardless of financial status, who requests one.
“Residential trash is the primary attractant luring bears into our neighborhoods,” said Drew Gath, Jackson Hole Bear Solutions program manager. “Distributing bear-resistant trash cans to as many residents as possible is the first step we need to take in order to reduce human-bear conflict, saving bears’ lives and keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
Solutions aren’t cheap. Bear-proof trash cans can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1,000.
The Teton County Board of Commissioners earlier this month unanimously voted to require the use of bear-proof trash cans by all county residents, so the program will allow for everyone in the county to obtain one of the trash cans to comply with the new order.
The program will also offer other resources including materials and installation assistance for electric fencing to secure bear attractants such as apiaries, compost piles and chicken coops.
The move by the county commissioners was prompted in part by the bear known as Grizzly 399 and her four cubs accessing beehives, unsecured animal feed and trash cans last year before being escorted out of Jackson late last fall.
Support From Local Business
Jason Williams, a Jackson businessman and chairman of the Jackson Chamber Board of Directors, said the availability of free trash cans is important — especially for community members who may not be in a position to buy one.
Further, Wyoming Wildlife Advocacy is a group he said he personally supports because of the way it operates.
“They are a real lean and mean organization,” Williams told Cowboy State Daily. “They don’t have a lot of administrative overhead which is why I support them.
“They’re very action-oriented,” he said. “So, take the money, order the trash cans and get them out in the field. Period.”
Living in Bear Country
According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, those who live in bear country need to store garbage where bears can neither smell nor gain access to it, whether that’s in a bear-proof trash can or inside of a building that bears cannot access.
Forty-five bears were captured in 49 separate incidents by the department last year. Of those, 30 bears were killed, one because of its sick and emaciated state.
A report released by the department earlier this year said that 17 of the 30 bears killed were found outside of the area of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem considered suitable for the long-term viability of grizzlies.
The department kills bears only “after careful and thorough deliberation taking into account multiple factors unique to each conflict situation” and only with the authorization of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reasons for killing grizzlies include that they have grown used to getting food from human sources or that they have killed livestock.
To request a bear-resistant trash can or other attractant-securing material, Teton County residents can visit jhbearsolutions.org.