Toree’s Stories: Protecting Lake Tahoe’s bears
Ryan Summerlin October 9, 2013
There is a new game in town and it’s called Bear Smart Incline Village. Actually, this group formed as a committee about two years ago with a mission of eradicating bear/trash encounters.
If the easy source of food can be eliminated, the bears will remain in the wilderness to forage for food, thereby reducing bear/human encounters, which ultimately endanger the bear.
Volunteers scoured the town at all hours, looking for trash issues. IVGID provided a trash hotline so that volunteers and concerned citizens could report improperly closed or over-flowing dumpsters, residential trash problems or areas where a wildlife trash violation had occurred.
The group was trying to foster awareness of existing trash ordinances through counseling individual businesses about proper trash disposal and reporting repeat offenders so that fines could be levied.
It was a painful process at times but much progress has been made. Businesses in the Raley’s and Incline Village Centers have built new enclosures for trash and recyclables, scheduled additional dumpster pickups to prevent over-flowing trash, even purchased new bear-proof Dumpsters.
Property managers have taken additional steps to inform tenants and vacationers of the importance of proper trash handling.
Bear Smart Incline Village has evolved into a non-profit organization dedicated to proper trash containment with a part-time employee who randomly inspects dumpsters and mans the IVGID Trash Hotline, 775-832-1221.
Volunteers and paid volunteers are on-call to perform trash cleanup and post notices of violation. This new organization is being initially funded by IVGID with the expectation that fines levied and trash cleanup fees will offset some of the costs.
Take a look around town and the progress will be apparent in the proliferation of bear-resistant containers and dumpsters. Please join me in giving a hand to our own Madonna Dunbar, Resource Conservationist, IVGID Waste Not program, who is largely responsible for the tremendous strides Incline Village has made in the areas of recycling and bear-safe trash handling.
Madonna uses the Bear Smart bear safety programs as a model for many of her policies. The Get Bear Smart Society is a registered Canadian charity promoting management policies that reduce human-bear conflicts, an organization based in Whistler, B.C., Canada.
In the last decade, Whistler, due to the implementation of Bear Smart programs, has been able to reduce the number of “conflict bears” killed by 50 percent, despite an increase in encounters.
The Get Bear Smart Society strives to work with all agencies and organizations that have similar goals for minimizing bear conflicts, believing it is important to work together to build bear smart communities.
Bear Smart Incline Village is attempting to build a model for other communities around the lake to follow, an experimental program that seems to be working. What if we could build a lake-wide committee, communities working together to synchronize our trash management programs?
I still remember my first bear encounter which was about 15 years ago. I happened to go out onto my deck around 6 p.m. and saw a bear at the bottom of my stairs. At that moment, my neighbor’s dog noticed the bear and began to bark, which scared the bear into the street.
Intrigued, I followed it. He ended up at one house which happened to have a tasty garbage can in the driveway. This was a time before we had any programs in place.
We all put our garbage out the night before, no one had “bear-safe” containers — we just picked up any trash that got spilled by bears or dogs. In short, we didn’t know any better.
This bear was having a wonderful snack out of this garbage can, oblivious to the half dozen or so people who were now watching him.
The family of the house whose garbage was being eaten came out onto the upper deck to watch. A small child peered through the slats of the deck and squealed, “Ooh, Daddy, look at the big kitty!”
We’ve come a long way since then, yet still have further to go. Eventually Bear Smart Incline Village will reach out to the rest of the communities around the lake to develop a comprehensive, lake-wide plan.
If you see someone in an orange vest with a clipboard and a camera, picking up trash, it could be a volunteer for the program, working to keep our bears safe.
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See save-our-planet-earth.blogspot.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.