North Bend needs better garbage cans: Bear Smart, WA works to bring bear-resistant option to rural area

This is the latest article from North Bend resident and pet trainer for Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs, Melissa Grant, who also is a volunteer for Bear Smart, WA.

A couple of months back I wrote an article about Bear Smart, WA and got to know its founder, Nadine Drisseq. We discovered a shared interest for all things critter, so I was intrigued when she asked if I’d like to be the new volunteer for Bear Smart, WA covering Snoqualmie and North Bend.

In talking with Nadine and being a dog trainer, it was interesting to discover that the dogs and bears have more similarities than I previously thought. Unlike what we see in Hollywood movies, bears – like dogs – have very predictable behavior that can be very beneficial to those of us who come into contact with them. I happily agreed to the volunteer position.

“Bear Smart WA is dedicated to education within the community to prevent unnecessary bear mortality due to conflict with humans.”

I jumped in with both paws, watching social media for opportunities to help educate and prevent – and specifically to treat human-bear conflict. The goal was to track and understand the habits of the local bears AND humans in order to defuse the situation, and also to teach the humans habits that will help them to live in harmony with wildlife.

A couple of Snoqualmie Valley areas stood out as having tons of bear conflict, particularly the day before and the morning of trash day. I repeatedly drove through several North Bend neighborhoods [south of I-90 exit 32] on Wednesday nights to see upended trash cans. One resident even sent Bear Smart a video of a bear making off with a large bag of trash.

Note: Trash eating bears die sooner, are larger than normal bears and become habituated to humans making them a danger to us and to themselves.

A few questions ran through my head as I tried to understand what was happening in this particular neighborhood. Were these residents lazy? Ignorant? Indifferent? Or merely lacking a secure area to store their trash?

This is the area I happen to reside and I don’t have a garage – nor do many of my neighbors. So the problem is probably a combination of all of the above options, but the one I decided to tackle first was trash security.

I contacted Republic Services to inquire about wildlife resistant waste containers for my own home – so when residents asked me about can options I would know what to tell them. It never occurred to me that in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, those cans wouldn’t be readily available to anyone who asked for them.

What a surprise.

My original inquiry was met with a polite “Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we do not offer bear proof carts in your area. You can purchase one, but it can be no larger than 32 gallons.  Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you”

So I asked if I could modify my can to be bear proof. I had seen neighbors drill a small hole in the top of their can so that a bungee cord could be strung from the metal bar to secure in that hole. The response was “I am not sure what you mean by modify, however as long as your cart is no larger than 32 gallons it would be fine, provided the driver can easily remove the lid. Thank you”

When I explained how I would modify the can, the customer service person said “As long as it is your can and not ours that would be fine.  A bungee cord is easily removal for the driver. Thank you”

Ok, so we can’t modify the cans and it has to be easily removed. Sounds good, but if it’s easy for the driver it would probably be easy for a bear, right?

I dug further and asked why wildlife resistant cans are not available in bear country. A new customer service rep returned, “It is how the city setup service for your area. I would notify the city. Thanks.” I asked if I could pay more and get one of the containers and was told, “Unfortunately no, if we had the service available we would provide it. I’m sorry.”

So now I’m thoroughly confused. I live outside of city limits and was unsure if the city council has anything to do with my garbage service. My last email to Republic was to give them the contract number from my bill to find out if I am in fact covered under the city’s contract with Republic – which in fact I am.

I wanted to contact the city to find out why the contract didn’t include the wildlife resistant containers since some of us clearly have a problem. I tried two or three different contact emails and got no response. After talking to a local neighborhoods homeowners association about their bear-garbage issues, we decided to come up with a form letter that anyone in that neighborhood could personalize, sign and shoot off to the city council.

Our letter makes it easy for residents who might be too busy or maybe intimidated to speak up for bear-resistant cans. We are soon expanding that letter to include any rural community who would like to address the issue. Is it, after all, against Washington state law to negligently feed wildlife:

“If a fish and wildlife officer, ex officio fish and wildlife officer, or animal control authority, as defined in RCW 16.30.010, has probable cause to believe that a person is negligently feeding, attempting to feed, or attracting large wild carnivores to land or a building by placing or locating food, food waste, or other substance in, on, or about any land or building, and the food, food waste, or other substance poses a risk to the safety of any person, livestock, or pet because it is attracting or could attract large wild carnivores to the land or building, that person commits an infraction under chapter 7.84 RCW.”

So using our new form letter, you can now quickly email North Bend City Council members with requests to provide bear-resistant containers via contract with Republic Services. Please email us at bearsmartwa@gmail.com for the form letter. All you need do is sign, date, put in your address, and email it off. (Email addresses are provided.)

The bears ‘Thank You’, in their own way, for being Bear-Smart.

Comments

  1. You should try the King County Council. I am unincorporated and had an issue. No help from Republic until I got them involved. There is also a state website. Let me know if you need the info

    • I am also unincorporated but those of us with a North Bend zip code have our contracts negotiated by the North Bend City Council

  2. Michael Williams says

    Walmart sells the larger BEAR PROOF cans -Toter 2-Wheel Bear Tight Trash Can 64 Gallon. @ $ 256.36 and a 96 gallon one for a few dollars more. From reading the reviews, it appears that the automated lifts on the refuse trucks unlock the lid by turning the can upside down. Unless your bears are smart enough to flip the can upside down this may be a solution (although an expensive one). Republic Services should have no objection as these are standard trash can sizes. The 32 gallon limit should not apply to these cans. Has anyone tried these?

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