BY JAMES ROBINSON
Los Alamos County Council
I first want to congratulate Los Alamos on our continuing high number of COVID-19 vaccine registrations. We are currently the highest in the state per capita for registrations, and we are leading in the number of vaccine doses provided. With vaccines and our social distancing measures, we are maintaining our turquoise status, and reopening just in time to enjoy our wonderful spring weather.
In addition to our nice weather, it is that time of year again. The bears are back in town, and they are hungry.
Bears appeared on the first security camera photos around two weeks ago, and just this last week, I chased a bear out of my neighbor’s bird feeder after it knocked over my roll cart.
Traditionally, I would provide several reminders about how to secure your waste bins and discuss bringing in your bird feeders at night. However, the topic of this column will be a little different. For this column, I am going to discuss the upcoming Los Alamos County Council budget session, and a proposed budget option for additional bear resistant roll carts and dumpsters.
For those who don’t know, every April the Council conducts its budget hearings to set our spending for the next fiscal year (starting July 1). Each department provides Council its proposed budget, and a series of budget options. These options are identified needs or wants for each department beyond its budget request. The County Manager will then categorize those options based on Council comments or additional conversations, and Council votes to accept each option.
This brings us to the bears. This year, Council will be asked to consider a budget option request to purchase enough bear resistant roll carts and dumpsters for the entire community. Altogether, this request will be a one-time cost of $2.4 million dollars for over 7,000 roll carts and 650 dumpsters.
Since 2017, I have been working with many other to have Los Alamos become a “Bear Friendly” community. A “Bear Friendly” community typically has three phases and looks like a pyramid.
The base of the pyramid is education. Los Alamos has excelled in education thanks to the annual “Bear Festival” and other education outreach from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) and Land of Enchantment Wildlife Foundation. The County, PEEC and New Mexico Game and Fish (NMG&F) are also partnering to produce public service announcement (PSAs) to help remind people of what it means to live in bear country. These PSAs should be coming out in the near future.
The next level of the pyramid is infrastructure, and this level is where we see the budget option. Infrastructure includes roll carts, dumpsters, and any other method people can use to keep their area secure from bears (i.e. electric fences, tow straps, sheds). Some items the County can provide, others we cannot. Since 2017, the County has relied on partnering with NMG&F on grants to order bear resistant roll carts and dumpsters. With more moisture in 2018 and 2019, the community had ample supply with the 300 carts we had previously ordered to meet demand. However, 2020 proved to be a challenging year. Due to drought conditions limiting the food supply in our surrounding forest (bears require around 10,000 calories a day), NMG&F and the Los Alamos Police Department spent hundreds of manhours answering phone calls, chasing and harassing bears, and relocating some bears in order to keep them out of our roll carts. Demand for the roll carts increased, and the County was successful in securing a grant to purchase an additional 300 roll carts.
Despite the additional roll carts and clever ways to secure waste, the greatest complaint I receive is, “The County should just provide everyone a roll cart and make them mandatory. That way I don’t have to clean up my neighbor’s trash that the bear dragged into my backyard.”
Now is our chance. With this investment, the County could purchase enough roll carts to provide everyone in the community with a new roll cart and replace those who have already purchased an older roll cart. This would be a BIG step in our efforts to be “Bear Friendly” community, and help reduce human-bear encounters throughout the County. Based on the anticipated production schedule of these new carts, we are expecting them to be available after the end of this bear season. With drought conditions expected to continue this year, we will need to be extra vigilant until the new roll carts arrive.
The final step in the pyramid is ordinances, and I will state now that we are not currently looking at any ordinance changes with respect to wildlife or roll carts. This step is when education and infrastructure fail. This can be citations provided by NMG&F or the County for repeat offenders, or requirements to use the county issued roll carts. A concern I hear is, “It isn’t fair to fine people when the ability to secure the waste isn’t provided.” And I agree. With this investment, the County will be on the path to provide everyone a way to secure their waste. There may be a time to look at changing our ordinances in the future, but not now.
It should come as no surprise that I fully support this budget option. I have been working on these items since I was on the Environmental Sustainability Board, and I am happy to see the technology is going to be in place we are in a place to make, what I believe, is a necessary purchase. We live in a wonderful area and are blessed by the wildlife around us. However, it is up to us to make sure we keep the wildlife and us safe. This option will help. Afterall, a fed bear is a dangerous bear, and a dangerous bear is a dead bear.