INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Ways to enhance bear management within the community and the greater state of Nevada was the main focus of discussion at a nearly four-hour-long gathering of officials and residents earlier this week.
“Ninety-five percent of bear problems are trash-related,” said Madonna Dunbar, resource conservationist for the Incline Village General Improvement District, to a crowd of nearly 40 residents at the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners’ Bear Committee meeting Monday evening at Sierra Nevada College. “A lot of times it’s called problem bear, but it’s really problem people.”
The committee met with members of the public to discuss potential solutions to perceived deficiencies in local trash laws with the intent of improving the overarching issue of area bear management.
Black bears often get into people’s garbage because trash cans are improperly stored or are improperly closed or locked, Dunbar said. To force community members to be conscious of their trash disposal, IVGID has set up “the strictest ordinance around,” Dunbar said, compared to current trash laws in Douglas and Washoe counties and Carson City.
Both Douglas County — excluding the towns of Minden and Gardnerville — and Carson City require residents to get bear-proof bins after receiving two violations within two years of a bear gaining access to one’s trash. As for Washoe County, bear-proof bins are required after two violations within a year or less.
As the IVGID ordinance stands, solid waste must be kept away from vermin, dogs, bears and other pests. One violation can result in a fine, and the owner is then required to get a bear-resistant trash container. Fines can range from $100 to $1,000 depending on the type of offense made and the number of violations.
“Prior to 2008, a lot of these rules here were not up to the level that they’re at (now),” Dunbar said. “When I first began at IVGID, the trash violation (fine) was like $10. It was extremely low. It’s not that we’re into punishing people, but when you have a fine and a compliance structure, you get people’s attention.”
In 2007, a total of 181 trash complaints related to wildlife were made to IVGID, Dunbar reported. That figure dropped to 56 in 2010. Since, the number of complaints has increased, with 59 complaints being made this year as of Sept. 10.
Dunbar said the reason for the increase likely is because IVGID is dealing with more commercial entities now than it did in the past.
“We keep chipping away at it,” she said.
Nicole Lutkemuller, a student at Sierra Nevada College, suggested using students to make area residents more aware of the bear trash situation.
“To address the lack of information being spread — especially for IVGID, but I think it could work in other places — is to utilize students,” she said. “We’re always looking for projects, like we need service learning hours or senior projects or research projects, and you don’t have to pay us.
“I know I’ve worked with IVGID before distributing pamphlets about summer events that get delivered to every doorstep in Incline Village. You could have a student committee going out, distributing that same sort of information related to the bear issue.”
Lutkemuller’s suggestion was met warmly by both those in the audience and on the board.
“Her recommendation I thought was excellent regarding the use of student power,” said committee member Kathryn Bricker.
Dave McNinch, chair of the bear committee, confirmed Incline residents Margaret Martini’s and Elizabeth Roger’s suggestion of the effectiveness of certain aversion tactics, such as putting ammonia on one’s trash can.
“It’s enough of a deterrent that they’ll go somewhere else,” he said. “Why dig in something that will burn your nose when they can go across the street and get someone’s (else’s trash),” he said.
Several others made suggestions on how to enhance bear management for the area, all of which involved non-lethal means.
Dunbar also made a presentation on Bear Smart, which has been used to address human-bear conflicts in other communities.
Bear Smart is a multi-step program that first forms a working group to analyze the bear problem at different angles, such as identifying popular areas for human-bear conflict, reviewing bear educational programs, reviewing waste management protocols and reviewing community planning strategies. Once the review process is complete, a human-bear conflict management plan is then developed and implemented with a review progress taking place annually.
“Usually when communities want to move toward the Bear Smart model, there’s been ongoing human-bear conflict and the community decides they really value the life of those bears and really want to reduce that number,” Dunbar said.
That doesn’t mean Bear Smart communities never have to euthanize bears, however.
“A lot of this is public safety,” Dunbar said. “We’re trying to keep the animals from sticking around town and getting into situations where someone could get hurt.”
After hearing everyone’s input, committee member Jack Robb suggested a letter be written to Washoe and Douglas counties, Carson City and IVGID, asking them to strengthen their ordinances, especially regarding the use of bear-resistant containers.