We, all of us who live, work and vacation here on the coast, live in bear country. It's a fact. The bears have been living on this land for a few tens of thousands of times longer than any of us, and this beautiful land has always belonged to them. To that end, there are a number of things we can do together to make our relationship with bears more enjoyable for us and safer for the bears.
Bears are porcine omnivores, meaning they are distantly related to pigs and will eat just about anything that resembles food: grass, worms, roots, insect larvae, road kill, fish and the easiest food of all, trash. Bears are first-class opportunists, and they will feed on whatever is close at hand.
If a trash can is just sitting there with the remains of last night's dinner within easy reach, well then, who can blame them for just helping themselves. Since no one ever told them that littering is unpatriotic, they have a habit of spreading the garbage everywhere and going through everything in your trash can to find that last slice of pizza you tossed out or the plate scrapings from the night before.
There is an old saw in the wildlife biz that says, "A fed bear is a dead bear!" True words to be sure.
When a bear is allowed to repeatedly ransack trash containers, the problem will only get worse. The more times they are in close proximity with humans, the less afraid of us they become and the stage is set for bear/people problems.
The losers in this story are, of course, the bears. They are often shot or wounded by the irate owners of said trash, and the bear will likely suffer a horrible and lingering death. If the wildlife enforcement people are called out to live-trap a bear, the bear will be released into a place where it cannot likely survive the attacks by the local and very territorial bears who already live near the release site.
So, what's a person to do? Answer: don't entice bears to your trash in the first place. Pretty simple, really.
Keep leftover food-laden garbage out of the trash can until pickup day (bears do most of their redecorating of your yard with trash at night). Keep your trash can clean and free of food smells by washing it regularly with bleach and water and a quick spritz of a bleach/water mix on top of your trash as it piles up in the garbage can. This will go a long way to help discourage bears. Also, a heavy-duty bungee cord across the lid of the trash can will help keep out the black bears' lesser but very trash savy cousin, the raccoon.
If all of this bear-proofing seems just a bit much, then consider the alternative. As bears grow more comfortable living in close quarters with people, the likelihood of them being killed or maimed increases dramatically. We have only to show we care and with just a little effort on our part, we can enjoy the presence of these they-were-here-before-you bears and continue to thrill at the sight of these wild wonders of Mother Nature.
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Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.
Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call the Wildlife Center at 665-3595 or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.