South Shore entities continue debate on bear-trash policies, enforcement and bear boxes |

South Shore entities continue debate on bear-trash policies, enforcement and bear boxes

Jack Barnwell
A mother black bear rumbles through the Gardner Street neighborhood of South Lake Tahoe on Aug. 25. El Dorado County Sheriff's deputies chased the bear and her three cubs from a garage after they were caught raiding a freezer chest.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

While bears continue to rummage through the garbage, three entities are debating trash policies on the South Shore.

The South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority wants to see solutions for residential customers. However, the three entities — El Dorado and Douglas counties and the City of South Lake Tahoe — can’t agree on policy.

The current plan focuses on repeat offenders regarding trash neglect: a first offense nets a warning, a second offense results in a fine, and a third requires a bear box installation. An outright mandatory bear-resistant container policy was off the table.

South Lake Tahoe Councilmember Tom Davis said the city already discussed the matter within his jurisdiction.

“I think we’re leaning toward a progressive policy of warning and education, a fine, and then the hammer,” Davis said.

El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel said the condensed policy for all three areas wouldn’t work if it didn’t require some type of mandatory animal-proof container.

“I don’t see requiring a bear-resistant container as a punishment, but as a way to solve a problem,” Novasel said.

She added that animal-trash problems in general will continue to be an issue.

South Tahoe Refuse, the franchise garbage hauler for Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, recently conducted a survey in its service area with 116 respondents. The results show that 73 percent, or 84 people, had no bear boxes. Only 27 percent, or 31 people, had animal-resistant garbage containers.

Approximately 49 people, or 43 percent of respondents, reported animal-trash problems in their neighborhood. Nearly 80 percent responded that homes with repeat animal-trash problems should install a metal enclosure or bear box.

Jeff Tillman, president of South Tahoe Refuse, said repeat bear-and-trash matters are largely educational.

Different policies

The South Lake Tahoe city council, in August, supported policy that only punished repeat offenders who failed to take any action to deter animals from getting into trash. Bear boxes would be required on a third offense. Requiring new homes or those who underwent specific renovations to install bear boxes was off the table.

El Dorado County requires bear boxes with any new residential construction or remodeling. Douglas County and South Lake Tahoe don’t.

However, both counties have similar residential trash enforcement policies.

Douglas County Commissioner Nancy McDermid said her county issues a warning. If there are repeat offenses within two years, Douglas County requires the property owner to install a bear box.

According to Novasel, El Dorado County has a similar requirement: repeat offenses require some type of bear-resistant trash container.

South Tahoe Refuse already documents incidents — like strewn garbage — and sends them to the appropriate local governments.

Clean Tahoe, a nonprofit, also helps to clean up strewn trash to minimize more animal incursions into residential areas.

McDermid said if the City of South Lake Tahoe could agree on enforcement policy similar to the counties it would streamline things for both the region’s trash hauler and residents.

Regardless of agreements, all three jurisdictions have to independently approve new policy before the South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority can formally adopt it.

Douglas County will discuss it at its Lake Tahoe meeting in October; El Dorado County is currently considering how to approach the subject; and South Lake Tahoe will revisit it later this year.

Bear box loan

All three jurisdictions agree that mandatory bear boxes would be expensive. The average bear box costs $1,200, plus installation.

The proposed streamlined South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority policy includes a voluntary no- or low-interest loan so property owners can install boxes.

“The reason for the bear box loan program is to allow people to put it in if they don’t have the cash,” McDermid said.

Executing the loan program is a different matter. Waste Management Authority staff set the loan portion aside until details could be hammered out.

Tillman, with South Tahoe Refuse, said his company shouldn’t be the one to tackle the matter. Unlike the Waste Management Authority, South Tahoe Refuse lacks enforcement power.

One option would be placing the loan on property tax rolls. It would stay with the property until it was paid off and defaults could be collected through liens.

Clean Tahoe has a list of tips to avoid animal-and-trash issues online at

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