Saturday, March 26, 2005

Column 23 - The Bear Facts

Thinking about this column, I hesitated because it seems to me that the bear question has been over-discussed. At the same time, I started hearing about a variety of proposed “solutions” to the “problem,” and was struck by what seems to me to be a particular way of thinking about it.

Lots of folks seem to subscribe to the view that we just need more bear-proofing, and the problem will somehow go away. The logic in this seems flawed to me on a couple of fronts. First, the more “bear-proof” something is, say trash cans, the more difficult they will be to use. Experience has shown that when things become difficult to use, people find ways to make them easier to use, usually by defeating the purpose for which they were designed. Secondly, our very fine trash service, Waste Management, brings the truck up, pulls the lids off the cans, empties the cans into the truck and puts them back. If they have to start unscrewing or unlatching lids, the whole process will slow down and become more expensive. Finally, a hungry bear will find a way. Unless you want to invest in very expensive and very heavy trash containers, the bears will roll, drop, maul, mangle, and otherwise mess with the “bear-proof” cans until they break into them.

I’d like to propose an approach that may not be popular It’s called personal responsibility. Personal responsibility starts with a clear appreciation of the facts: Fact: This is the bears’ home. They were here before we got here and, barring our killing them all, they will be here after we’re gone. Fact: bears get hungry and need a lot of food, particularly when they are hibernating. Fact: bears are smart, particularly where food is concerned, and they are lazy – given an easy food source and one that is harder to get to, they’ll take easy every time. Fact: if the animals can’t get food easily from humans, they will forage and eat as they always have.

So here’s the deal. Let’s eliminate the temptation for bears and other animals to look to us for food. How? By not giving them access. Garbage is never picked up at night, when it’s quiet and there are few people around, so that’s when the animals approach. So don’t put your garbage out at night! Put it out in the morning, or if your trash pickup doesn’t happen until later in the day, put it out later. Make it a rule that you don’t leave full garbage cans out longer than an hour or two. If you do that, you can go right on using your trusty Rubbermaid container, and you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on containers that are probably only an annoyance to the bears at best.

Now here’s the second part of personal responsibility: take responsibility for your neighborhood. If you know that some of the houses in your neighborhood are rented out, contact the owners and ask them to post instructions not to leave garbage out overnight and to provide an alternative if need be.

And use common sense about your home – the mother bear and two cubs that were killed on the West Shore got into the house because the homeowner left a door open. Close your ground floor windows and doors when you are out and when you are cooking or preparing food.

People have lived alongside the animals in the Tahoe Basin for hundreds of years, and we can continue to do so, but only if we rely on ourselves rather than expecting to find an easy solution through technology so that we don’t have to be responsible. Let’s handle this one ourselves rather than through some labor-saving (and responsibility-saving) solution.

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