Trash can bears may be hit with pepper, paint |

Trash can bears may be hit with pepper, paint

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily TribuneSgt. Don Atkinson demonstrates the firing of bear aversion rounds which will no longer be used.

Rubber bullets used to deter hungry bears from trash have fallen by the wayside and could be replaced by a ball filled with pepper and paint.

El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department has quit using 12-gauge rubber slugs fired by shotguns to scare bears away from human food. The bears have grown accustomed to the pain. As a result, they continue to go for trash, Lt. Les Lovell said.

“It was very effective to begin with because there was immediate response to the pain stimulus, but of course the draw of the garbage and food supplies would bring the bears back,” Lovell said.

Citing another reason to ditch the rubber bullets, Lovell said there is a chance a citizen may think a shotgun-wielding and dark-clothed deputy is an intruder.

Bear calls are usually received during the night or early morning, he said.

“The potential is just high for us to get into a friendly fire incident with a neighbor or visitor over a bear aversion,” Lovell said. “We’re not wanting to create that opportunity.”

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In place of the rubber bullets, the sheriff’s department is considering a projectile filled with oleoresin capsicum, a pepper spray derivative, and fluorescent paint. The pepper powder would annoy the bear away from enticing trash cans. The paint would allow deputies to track the bear and see if the animal has a habit of going into garbage.

The remaining rubber bullets, which move too fast for crowd control efforts, will be sent to the BEAR League and other law enforcement agencies that have similar problems. They were first introduced to El Dorado County deputies for bear aversion about four years ago.

The pepper balls have been used for a year by Truckee police officers along with other bear aversion tools, including the rubber bullets and a flash bang device, said Dan Boon, Truckee’s chief of police.

They are shot above a bear’s head if the animal scurries up a tree. The bear, annoyed with the concentration, leaves the tree.

Ann Bryant, executive director for the BEAR League, said the organization supports the decision. The trash and rubber bullet tactic is similar to holding out a bowl of candy for a child then slapping the child’s outreached hand, Bryant said.

“You cannot go out night after night and beat up these bears and keep the food buffet out,” Bryant said.

Compared to Placer County, South Lake Tahoe residents have an increased tendency to leave unprotected trash out for bears, Bryant said.

Last summer an ordinance was passed enabling the county to fine people who don’t have metal trash enclosures at newly constructed residences or routinely leave their leftovers for bears.

The ordinance, Bryant said, “pretty much fell flat on its face” because of lack of enforcement.

“Without that part of the whole, it had no chance but to fail,” she said.

But Ginger Huber, El Dorado County’s environmental manager, said 60 to 70 notices for first-time violations have been issued since the ordinance took effect July 1.

“We are in the legal process right now for the first violation that’s gone to its second notice,” she said.

First-time offenders are given a warning. A second offense within two years requires the homeowner to construct a bear-proof enclosure for trash within 30 days.

Subsequent violations within two years after carry a $100 fine, she said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this article. E-mail William Ferchland at