Bear with Me

We are entering a fraught time in our community when, newly awake, our bear neighbours go looking for food. Neighbours is unfair as they were here long before we were, their forested byways irrevocably dissected by our streets, highway, bridges, paths, and trails. Ever inventive, we put additional challenges in their way, like the temptation of food they instinctively find hard to resist. Add to this the introduction of a municipal organics collection service area expected to roll out in July this year. 

For me this is one of those difficult balancing acts, choosing right the thing when assessing all the variables.

So, first, I think it’s important to divert organics from our landfill. Actually, it’s the landfill operated by the Regional District of East Kootenay but to which we as taxpayers all contribute. Organics just take up space and slowly decompose over years releasing significant amounts of methane. For those keeping score, methane is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change. Even if it weren’t, it just makes sense to save space in the landfill and extend its lifespan by years diverting a waste stream that can be turned into a useable product: compost. 

This summer the City of Fernie will be rolling out a new organics collection process. I won’t pre-empt the communications plan, leaving that to more capable hands. I’ll instead return to my opening thoughts about bears and the ever-present risk of bear-human conflicts. 

We have, over a number of years, habituated our bears so that they now recognize just the shape of our garbage carts as an opportunity for a meal. That’s a problem. Why then add another bin to the equation: waste, recycling, and organics? First, it’s the reasons I cited above. Second, we opted for bear-resistant bins for organics. More expensive but more robust than our current animal-resistant waste bins. The idea being that the material that used to attract bears to the waste bins is now in a more secure, one-hour resistant bear bin. Note the new bins are not bear-proof but will be significantly more challenging for a predator to get into. I have watched a bear quite handily open one of our existing bins by laying it down and, with its mouth, twisting the gravity-lock handle. A nifty learned behaviour that took all of fifteen seconds. All the same secure storage requirements still apply to ensure that your organics waste is kept secure until the morning of pickup. 

Other communities have opted for other solutions including centralized drop-off locations versus home-use bins. The challenge is that in these circumstances the uptake is generally quite low. Reportedly the organics is incredibly well sorted but the users, who are clearly committed, is quite low. Conversely, the curbside collection sees higher usage but more contamination. So, while the central bins can be pretty much bear-proof with low input, the bear-resistant home bins have higher input with more risk for wildlife interaction. It falls to all of us to be as diligent as possible both putting the right materials into the organics bin and managing its storage to avoid wildlife conflict. The conflict ultimately is a people problem not a bear problem. 

Finally, I did want to salute a group of local citizens and organizations who, recognizing the multi-layered challenges, are working to establish a community Wildlife Conflict Reduction Committee (their name yet to be determined). Like so many issues, the ultimate and best solutions will be realized through active dialogue and collaboration.