With the onset of winter, the combination of bears and garbage is proving to be a serious problem in western Nevada.
And the key issue is the lack of bear-resistant garbage containers in the Reno-Tahoe-Carson City area, according to wildlife officials.
“Waste Management has been one of the biggest obstacles to getting bear proof containers used in the local areas,” said Carl Lackey, whose job is to deal with bear problems for the Department of Wildlife.
He said the company’s opposition comes despite the fact Waste Management provides bear-resistant containers in other states including Montana and Colorado.
Sarah Polito, spokesperson for Waste Management, said whether the company provides bear-resistant containers or not depends on its contract with the local governments in the area.
“Maybe he’s not aware we can’t just mandate something without getting it approved by the municipality we work with,” she said.
She said the contracts in the area can be changed but requires an agreement by both Waste Management and the local government. She said one problem may be those contracts were written as long ago as the late 1990s when bears weren’t an issue anywhere outside of Incline Village.
“Waste Management in other parts of the country provides residential bear resistant cans, commercial bear resistant Dumpsters, but Waste Management here tells people they can’t do it,” Lackey said.
Lorrie Olson, general manager of the Caughlin Ranch Homeowners Association in south Reno, said the company has recently agreed to pick up bear-resistant containers but wants people to pay an additional $11.27 a month because the driver has to get out of the truck to empty them.
“Waste management has an animal resistant container they use in Colorado,” she said. “They just don’t offer them in Washoe County.”
For now, Polito said people who want a bear proof garbage have to buy it. An approved container runs about $230.
But Olson said customers not only have to buy the can, they get charged more instead of getting a price break for returning the Waste Management container.
“That to me, is not fair,” Olson said.
Polito said the cost of the container has nothing to do with the added charge.
“It’s an additional service,” she said.
She said WM’s trucks can automatically pick up and dump regular garbage cans but not the bear resistant container.
“They have to get out of the truck, unlock it, do what they normally do, then get back out of the truck and lock it,” she said. “It’s the physical action of having to get out, that’s where the extra fee derives.”
As Olson put it: the approved bear resistant container has a lid that “takes a person with an opposable thumb to get them open.”
Madonna Dunbar of the Incline Village General Improvement District said she has been asking Waste Management “for several years” to add the option of a bear-resistant container.
She said she believes the company will resist until western Nevada communities demand bear proof cans.
“We’re not quite at the demanding point,” she said. “We’re going to strongly request this now.”
“Ninety-five percent of the bear/human issues are related to trash,” said Olson.
Lackey said humans are definitely part of the problem.
“People don’t tend to take any precautions until after they’ve had a bear conflict,” he said. “I hear it all the time: ‘I’ve been here 20 years and never had a bear get into my trash ‘til last night.’”
After they have a bear show up, “then they want us to come and remove the problem they created.”
Jeanette Santini, one of the owners of the Clear Creek Mobile Home Park, said the park had numerous bear problems but she believes its problem has been taken care of. She said the solution Carson City offered was to install taller Dumpsters with metal instead of plastic lids the park manager locks at 8 p.m. and unlocks at 8 a.m. each day.
Since then, she said, they have only had a bear get in a Dumpster one time because a resident left the lid open.
Polito said most mobile home parks and apartment complexes are served with dumpsters, and the company can provide Dumpsters with metal lids and latching mechanisms instead of plastic lids to customers in bear country.
She said the added monthly charge for picking up bear resistant containers varies. While it’s $11.27 in Caughlin ranch, she said it would be $15.71 a month if Carson City went that route.
Olson said Caughlin Ranch and Incline aren’t the only places bears are causing problems. She said Galena Forest and the corridor all the way up the Mount Rose Highway have major problems with bears.
She said if WM offered the containers, “hundreds of homeowners would participate.”
Polito said the company is willing to have those talks with the various municipalities.
Olson emphasized the goal isn’t to eliminate the bears.
“It’s about retraining the humans so the bears can live here,” she said. “The bears were here before us.”
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