BY KATHERINE BRUELL
Pajarito Environmental Education Center
The Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) is happy to see that Los Alamos County Council will be considering a budget option to provide bear-resistant roll carts to the entire community. We believe this action is crucial to protect our wildlife and to save time and resources for our law enforcement agencies.
Bears require a huge number of calories every day, and even more so when they are preparing for the winter. While black bears will eat anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 a day, their actual caloric need is on the higher end of that number. They, like most of us, want to get those calories in the easiest way possible. Human trash is calorie-rich, and packaged up nicely by the side of the road for bears to access. Bears can smell up to 10 miles or more, and will learn when trash day is in each neighborhood. PEEC board member Hari Viswanathan says, “We setup a trail cam at our house to see what animals were visiting. Bears would stop by the pond for a quick drink or bath in the summer and fall but were never a nuisance. When I looked to see when bears visited, it was often on trash day. I think they were in the neighborhood looking for trash and stopped by the pond since they were in the area.”
A few more scientific facts about bears and trash:
- Black bears pass down knowledge to their cubs, so if you have a mama bear successfully obtaining food from your trash can every week, you’ll have all the generations following coming to your house.
- Female bears can come into conflict with each other when they break territory boundaries at the call of trash. Bears in conflict are more likely to be stressed and aggressive toward humans.
- During the summer, transient male bears (males don’t hold resident territories) spend most of their time chasing and following females. If the male discovers an easy food source through following a female, he’s more likely to linger in the area, and males are more bold and aggressive.
- Bear-resistant carts are also beneficial for other wildlife, including the small and medium-sized creatures that carry disease and disease vectors.
- Bears become easily inured to hazing and negative reinforcement, so people can’t depend on their dogs, motion-sensor lights, or loud noises for long; better to just remove the incentives.
While we may think it’s fun and special to see a bear near our houses, in truth it is much better if wildlife and people don’t mix. Easily accessible trash brings bears to our neighborhoods, and each human-bear interaction increases the likelihood of an unpleasant outcome. Even without a tragic incident such as what happened at the ski hill last year, these interactions lead to numerous calls to law-enforcement, causing a drain on our community’s resources.
Bear-resistant roll carts will go a long way towards removing bears’ motivation to be near our houses, which will, in turn, reduce these dangerous and costly interactions between people and bears. PEEC board and staff wholeheartedly support budget option 41 for bear resistant roll carts. This investment in the future safety of our community will pay off many times over.