Incline Village officials continue to explore bear-trash management | SierraSun.com

Incline Village officials continue to explore bear-trash management

Josh Staab
jstaab@sierrasun.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Following two years of stricter solid waste enforcement — and with an expected increase in trash containment issues — Incline Village remains divided on how best to address the issue, especially when the conversation turns to human-wildlife conflicts.

During an Oct. 1 board of trustees retreat, Incline Village General Improvement District Public Works Director Joe Pomroy presented a solid waste enforcement report.

Pomroy took board members through the history of Ordinance 1 — the law that regulates solid waste removal, collection and disposal, which was updated this September — and trash containment violation fees.

IVGID began proactive trash enforcement in 2013 with the assistance of an outside contractor. Since, officials believe substantial progress has been made in improving compliance, especially as it applies to commercial entities.

In 2014, the district hired a Solid Waste Enforcement Technician, who built on the gains in trash compliance achieved in 2013, and provided additional customer assistance to find the best solutions.

Working with commercial properties more closely over the last year, that technician helped take 206 trash-related incidents from 2014 down to 93 so far in 2015, according to the district.

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RESIDENTIAL VERSUS COMMERCIAL

The disparity, however, is less apparent when comparing residential complaints. According to the report, IVGID fielded 88 residential complaints in 2014, versus 87 so far in 2015.

This may in part have to do with the fact no such technician has been contracted to provide enforcement for residential entities, said IVGID Board Vice Chairman Jim Hammerel.

"We have a staff person dedicated to bringing commercial entities into compliance," Hammerel said. "That staff person doesn't exist for residential entities."

For perspective, from September 2013 to September 2014, IVGID fielded approximately 304 complaints in both commercial and residential areas, specific to wildlife, Pomroy said.

Since, Pomroy said his department has stopped differentiating whether a breach complaint was specific to wildlife or not; his department addresses the complaint regardless of the circumstance.

For the 2013-14 fiscal year, IVGID issued $37,670 in fines for 229 total complaints, compared to $46,258 for 163 complaints for 2014-15. The increase in fines came as a result of increasing the penalty charge associated with the complaints.

Since 2005, the community has paid $181,127 in fines; the district has issued $63,945 in credits, netted $117,182 in fines and collected 1,206 total complaints through 2015, according to the solid waste enforcement report.

'A BIG PROBLEM'

Despite the past two years of upped enforcement, some say IVGID isn't doing enough.

"I don't think the ordinance has enough teeth," said Ann Bryant, executive director of the Homewood, Calif.-based BEAR League, an advocate group for the humane treatment of bears. "So many of these (residents) will not do the right thing, and these governing agencies condone that. It hasn't fixed the problem, because there will always be more bears."

According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, in 2014, human-bear conflicts increased 41 percent over the conflicts in 2013 (498), with personnel handling roughly 704 complaints and reports of bears, according to a report from NDOW Wildlife Biologist Carl Lackey.

Incline Village, meanwhile, made up for about 22 percent of all bear-human conflicts statewide both years.

"We still have a big problem," Hammerel said. "It's smaller than it was two years ago, but it is still a big issue. It doesn't shine our community in the best light."

With 2014 being the fourth consecutive drought year, the resulting lack of natural foods was likely a main driver for the increase, Lackey reports.

The number of incidents throughout the state of Nevada have increased year over year since reporting began in 1987, according to NDOW. The majority of complaints received are of bears accessing garbage or other sources of human food.

WHAT OPTIONS EXIST?

Moreover, in 2014, conflicts reported predominantly came from Washoe County — about 63 percent — and in particular Incline Village, which accounted for 15 percent of the 704 calls received statewide in 2014, according to Lackey.

"You have to bring everyone to the table and say, 'hey, we all want to save the bears,'" said Bill Devine, IVGID board trustee, which he added may be easier said than done.

"I'm going to push really hard to have the bear advocates and (NDOW) officials at the table so we can have a frank discussion about what could happen if we have to euthanize some bears," Devine said. "And that is going to upset some people, but what other options do we have?

"So what are the options, and then have both sides come to some compromise and come up with a solution."

As a last resort, NDOW officials will kill a bear if it is deemed a threat to humans, Lackey said, noting that wildlife officials have killed five in the state so far this year.

Property damage for the 2014 through 2015 year, meanwhile, was reported at more than $26,000 in Incline Village, according to NDOW.

However, as Lackey's report indicates, "most people don't report damage unless it is significant, and even then, these figures are not always reported."

"For the most part is seems to be human error," Hammerel said. "When these rules aren't followed to the T, is when we run into conflict."

Like NDOW, Pomroy believes bear-human conflicts in 2015 will surpass the 2014 statistics.

People are the Problem

NDOW officials and private bear defense services advocate proactive measures like the installation of wildlife-resistant trash containers, such as a bear box — which can cost upward of $1,200 — or a $250 bear tote.

"We can't manage wildlife when people choose to act irresponsibly, and we can't enforce people to be responsible for their trash," Lackey said.

To date, about 20 percent of Incline Village/Crystal Bay residences are using a bear-resistant tote or bear box, after 10 years of education and rebate incentives, according to Pomroy's report.

Alternatively, Pomroy points out the financial obligation installing such a wildlife-resistant trash container would require, speculating that while some residents acknowledge the proximity with which they share with the bears, the gamble tends to outweigh the perceived necessity.

"They do not seem to be a financial burden worth imposing on homeowners," Pomroy said.

As the district moves forward, Pomroy hopes to eventually gain about 90 percent compliance from the community.

Lackey believes gaining 60 percent containment compliance could provide a balance to the human-bear conflict.

In next steps of the Solid Waste Franchise process, Pomroy said IVGID staff will propose a General Manager Committee to discuss topics like commercial and residential containment and recycling service changes.

Further, IVGID's franchise renewal process with Waste Management may include a proposal for stricter mandates on wildlife-resistant trash containment.

However, such a proposal isn't likely to come until the end of 2016, and no date has been set for the GM committee, Pomroy said.

"As a district, we want compliance — we're not interested in developing a revenue stream from fines," Hammerel said. "The district will have a great opportunity in reevaluating its franchise agreement with Waste Management, and I look forward to refining that agreement for the mutual benefit of the district and the community."

By the numbers

Violation history

Fines paid: $181,127

Credits issued: $63,945

Net of fines: $117,182

Filed complaints: 1,206

Source: IVGID, based on statistics from 2005-2015.

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Garbage pick-up statistics

Total Incline Village residential units: 3,730

Residential trash stops: 1,526

Stops with recycling or green waste only: 138

Units with a wildlife container in use: 456 (33 percent)

Units with a non-wildlife resistant container: 932 (67 percent)

Bear boxes in community: 425

Bear totes in community: 350

Source: IVGID, based on statistics from a 1-week residential survey in June 2014, and documented service. Bear box/tote numbers according to district’s 2014-15 Bear Box Inventive Program.

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Learn more

Visit bit.ly/1KFEZhz to download Pomroy’s Oct. 1 presentation.