Bear box loan program launches on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Bear box loan program launches on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore

Amid a bout of bad news regarding bears in Lake Tahoe, including the accidental shooting of one by a police officer and a lawsuit by a bear biologist against a wildlife advocacy group, there is something good to report on bear management: It's now easier than ever for residents to purchase bear boxes for their South Shore homes.

At the end of March the South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority approved a bear box loan program that will allow homeowners to apply for a loan of up to $1,200 for a metal bear box.

Administered by South Tahoe Refuse, the loan payments will span five years and include quarterly payments of up to $65 sent alongside the regular garbage collection service bill.

"I can tell you that since we've launched this program I've had over 100 requests and that's only in the last month or so. They come in every day," said Jeanette Tillman, administrator at South Tahoe Refuse.

The only qualifications for the loan are that the resident be a homeowner and serviced by South Tahoe Refuse. This includes Lake Tahoe residencies in El Dorado County, city of South Lake Tahoe and across the state line in Douglas County.

When the loan is approved, the homeowner then selects a bear box from one of the approved vendors and South Tahoe Refuse will pay for the purchase of the box and its installation. There is a $50 processing fee for the loan application, and $100 administration fee if the loan is obtained.

"Bears train their young to find food, just like humans do. The more food they find, the more likely they are to show their cubs where the food is and many times that's garbage cans," said Tillman, who said the issue with improperly stored garbage on the South Shore is "huge."

"It's about teaching wildlife that there is no source of food there, and bear containers do that."

Ann Bryant, executive director of the local bear advocacy group BEAR League, said she was "thrilled" with the program.

"This is a huge step in the right direction, and it sounds like an excellent program," said Bryant.

The South Shore now joins other communities around the lake who already have bear box incentive programs in place.

Placer County approved a similar bear box loan program for residents served by Tahoe Truckee Disposal Inc. in July 2015, and Incline Village gives a $300 rebate for residents who install a bear box from an approved vendor.

But, according to Bryant, making the bear boxes easier to purchase is not enough.

"I used to believe they shouldn't be mandatory because there are a lot of people that have a solid steel garage door or a way of making sure the bears don't get in," said Bryant. "But after 20 years of watching how impossible it is for far too many people to get with the program and understand that it's very difficult to keep a bear out of your trash unless you have a metal bear bin, I think they should be mandatory in Lake Tahoe."

Though the BEAR League and the Nevada Department of Wildlife don't agree on much, they do agree on this.

"The [Nevada] Department of Wildlife for a long time now has advocated that bear-proof garbage containers at

Lake Tahoe would eventually be what would save bears and allow people to live in and amongst bears, so any step that goes towards that we welcome," said Chris Healy, NDOW spokesman.

"There's a number of entities around the lake that have power over how garbage is handled, and we encourage them to hopefully get to the point where bear-proof garbage containers will be mandatory in the Lake Tahoe Basin."

It's a conversation that has come up on more than one occasion.

Over the years officials from both South Shore counties and the city of South Lake Tahoe have met to discuss trash policies. Though all three have similar ordinances, they differ in terms of enforcement

Last year Douglas County discussed its trash ordinances in regards to bears and decided to stay with its policy that requires a bear box to be installed after two trash offenses within two years.

El Dorado County has a similar policy, though it requires all new residential construction to include a bear box. In South Lake Tahoe, bear boxes are never mandated, but citations are issued for trash offenses.

Despite the loan program in place on the South Shore, the high-cost of bear boxes will likely remain the biggest hurdle in mandating them across the basin.