Tribes Distribute Bear-Resistant Trash Cans

By Beacon Staff

RONAN — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have purchased 125 trash canisters designed to thwart bears looking for an easy meal on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The tribes are giving the containers to homeowners who have had a problem with bears getting into trash.

“It allows bears to be bears, and not become dependent on garbage,” said Tom McDonald, division manager for the tribes’ Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Program.

“Grizzlies have been here for thousands of years, and for 10,000 to 15,000 years existed with tribal folks without conflicts,” said Germaine White, information and education specialist for the tribes’ Natural Resources Department. “We want to keep bears from being needlessly destroyed because of conflicts. There are easy solutions to avoiding those conflicts.”

The 95-gallon containers cost $300 and were purchased with a Tribal Wildlife Incentive Grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Called Kodiak Cans, they were developed and made by Northland Products of Prescott, Ariz.

Bill and Barb Foust have been testing the containers at their home on the front of the Mission Mountains and say bears so far haven’t been able to get into them.

“We’ve been really tickled,” Barb Foust said. “We’ve already had several repeat performances from the bears, and it’s been no contest. They can’t get into them.”

Opening the containers involves flipping two small paddles on the front of the containers that keep the lid unlocked long enough to put in trash. Tribal biologist George Barce said a gravity-activated mechanism keeps the lid locked if the container is tipped on its side.

The Kodiak Can passed a test with a 600-pound captive Alaskan grizzly at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. “Kobuck the Destroyer,” as he’s called, failed to crack the Kodiak Can.

“He got into a lot of containers we did not think he would be able to,” said Bill Lavelle of the Living with Wildlife Foundation in Condon.

Trash cans must withstand Kobuck’s attempts for one hour before the foundation will certify the container as bear-resistant.

But the cans are also designed to work with fully automated grabber-style refuse trucks, with the metal arms that grab the can pinching the two paddles.

McDonald said a related problem officials are dealing with is that some people aren’t concerned about bears getting into garbage on their property. That can cause bears to become habituated to human food.

“That’s not the right attitude for human safety and the long-term survival of bears,” he said.

Tribal Warden Pablo Espinoza said problem bears are typically trapped and either relocated or killed. He said wardens intend this year to be strict about getting residents to not allow situations that attract bears.

“Our fish and game program would really prefer not to be setting bear traps,” he said. “Most of our calls are related to garbage. We don’t want to be a taxi service where we are transporting bears for no reason.”

On another front, tribes last year sponsored a seminar showing residents how to put up electric fencing around chicken coops or other poultry or livestock. Last year, landowners with unprotected chickens shot and killed two grizzlies.

“There are 6 billion $2 chickens in the world, and we’re killing grizzly bears over them,” White said. “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

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