The Sierra Club Assists in Bear-proofing the Communities around Yellowstone
By Monica Fella
Over the years, garbage problems have shifted from within Yellowstone National Park to lands outside the park, where almost all grizzly mortalities and conflicts now occur. Years ago, the park had open-pit dumps which the bears fed on and food was made available to bears by visitors and employees alike. In the late 1970's the Park Service closed their dumps and discontinued allowing people to feed bears. The enormous success in cleaning up Yellowstone can be useful to demonstrate that it is relatively easy to fix sanitation problems, especially with the abundant knowledge and experience within the region.
Many residents new to the area are unaware that they need to secure their garbage, pet food, bird feeders, and grills from bears. These human materials attract bears into our neighborhoods and allow them to obtain unnatural food. As a result bears are often habituated, or "hooked on", human attractants and become labeled as "problem" bears. Most of these bears end up euthanized because of the risk they pose to people and property. Over the past nine months the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystems Project has been working in the Greater Yellowstone area to raise awareness of the importance of sound food and trash storage practices and to teach residents how to live responsibly in bear country.
In particular, we are concentrating and expanding our educational efforts in the communities of Big Sky, Cooke City/Silvergate, and West Yellowstone, as well as some areas in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. In these areas, we distributed information to new and established residents as well as business owners with tips on securing common bear attractants. This is critical considering the rising number of human-bear conflicts and grizzly mortalities. The Greater Yellowstone and Glacier areas hit near record numbers again last year. At least 42 grizzlies died at human hands, most from avoidable and unnecessary habituation to human foods, garbage, birdseed, and dog food.
We recently had a noteworthy success in Big Sky, with a commitment by the waste management firm, BFI, to switch from its current non-bear proof dumpsters to bear proof dumpsters during the summer of 2002. This decision was reached after a great deal of pressure was mounted from the Sierra Club. Early in the year we organized a public hearing in front of Gallatin County commissioners to discuss the sanitation issue and how it relates to bears. We had representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and BFI who testified on the importance of bear-proofing the community of Big Sky.
Approximately 130 non-bear proof dumpsters were replaced with bear proof containers within three months following this hearing. The transition is complete and the dumpsters are helping to restrict the bear's access to garbage! It is now up to individual residents to use these expensive containers properly and make their personal attractants unavailable to bears. We take pride in sharing this wonderful success with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and with BFI.
Also, the community of Cooke City/Silvergate is receiving a new state-of-the-art garbage facility. We hope to see this new facility in place by next summer. Cooke City is another area where many of Yellowstone's bears get into trouble and end up being killed. This new garbage facility will definitely help diminish the attraction of the town's trash to bears.
Working with the Gallatin County Planning Department in Montana and the Teton County Planning Department in Wyoming, we aim to incorporate wildlife sanitation regulations into the building and development permits in areas located in or around bear habitat. Gallatin County is currently using a "Living in Bear Country" fact sheet in their Land Use Zoning Permits and Park County in Montana is making them available as well. The Sierra Club hopes to expand similar work into other counties in Montana and Wyoming.
Finally, we will be hosting a series of public meetings to get information on bear safety and proper sanitation measures out into the communities surrounding Yellowstone. These meetings will include presentations by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks that explain the process for dealing with "problem" bears.
We will continue this education and outreach throughout the fall as bears enter hyperphagia, a time in which bears are urgently packing on pounds to carry them through hibernation. Proper sanitation in bear country not only increases the level of public safety, but also helps to protect bears from unnecessary deaths. We are also demonstrating that communities can, with a little respect and discipline, live successfully in bear country.
To get information on bear proofing your home, contact Monica.Fella@sierraclub.org.
More: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear: Sanitation Loop Holes Lure Bears to Garbage
Photo: bear in garbage courtesy NPS. Other photos courtesy Timothy Treadwell.
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