Saturday, May 18, 2024

CSD partners with Defenders of Wildlife for bear-resistant garbage cans installation

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LEAVENWORTH – Twenty bear-resistant garbage cans are now in place at local schools, and another thirty are in the process of being placed throughout Leavenworth, thanks to a partnership between Cascade School District (CSD), the City of Leavenworth, Defenders of Wildlife, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

This collaboration began with CSD connecting with Joe Bridges, a wildlife conflict specialist with WDFW. Video cameras around the perimeters of school facilities have shown evidence of a problem with bears seeking out school garbage cans, explained Teresa Disher, CSD facilities director. This is especially true for Icicle River Middle School and Cascade High School, which abut Rattlesnake Hill and collectively produce garbage from feeding hundreds of students breakfast and lunch five days a week.

Bridges was the right person to talk to because he specializes in reducing and eliminating causes of conflict between humans and wildlife, be it bears with garbage or elk and deer-eating crops.

CSD’s willingness to pilot solutions got the ball rolling. CSD’s relatively new composting system, which was established with guidance from Waste Loop, already included bear-resistant cans. Bridges determined that all the outdoor garbage cans could be swapped for a bear-resistant type, and he obtained funding through Defenders of Wildlife. The grant supported fifty bear-resistant 96-gallon garbage cans, forty of which arrived in August, with ten more coming in September. They are the property of the City of Leavenworth, and CSD was prioritized for the first round of installation.

Kodiak Products manufactures the new cans with a double wall construction and latch design requiring manual finesse. They are certified bear-proof because they’ve evaded unlocking by captive bears while full of meat. A crucial design feature is a mechanism that swings open the lid when a garbage truck arm picks up a can and angles it upside down past a certain degree.

Beyond the schools, all of Leavenworth can follow suit with preventative measures, Bridges believes. Other prioritized business locations for the donated cans include behind La Javelina and Rudloof’s Pizza. Both restaurants are a short distance from Enchantment Park and its surrounding bear-friendly green space.

Future efforts to transform Leavenworth from one of the top cities in terms of “bear problem” calls to WDFW to being the most bear-wise city in Washington would tackle the need for improved 300-gallon trash totes and residential garbage cans. “There is not a single trash tote manufacturer that produces 300-gallon bear-resistant totes,” explained Tom Wachholder, Public Works Director for the City of Leavenworth. “Kodiak Products is willing to mass produce their 300-gallon concept if the City can commit to an order up front at an approximate cost of $600,000 (this includes all costs) for 300 totes. This process has started in terms of discussing the process with the manufacturer. The manufacturer will be required to re-tool their operation as well as fine-tune the totes; therefore, it could take a year or two to implement the larger 300-gallon bear-resistant totes.”

As for residential garbage cans, both in the city limits and in the 98826 zip code, Bridges said he’ll be meeting with Waste Management soon to find out what it would take to swap all the residential trash cans with bear-resistant cans. “Turning the volume down,” as Bridges put it, on the attractiveness and availability of garbage is a key step of the BearWise (www.bearwise.org) model that has been created by wildlife biologists to aid communities.

Bridges has distributed BearWise educational materials—banners, brochures, free stickers and magnets—to the schools as well as to downtown Leavenworth locations and City Hall. “Leavenworth is like a national park now with three million visitors to Yellowstone with its four million. The reality is I have to get the public to want to own this issue and run with it,” said Bridges. “That will save the lives of bears and people too.”

Wachholder and Disher both agree with the value of becoming more bear-wise. “We are beginning our planning efforts for 2024, and becoming more BearWise will be an added ongoing objective for the Public Works Department,” said Wachholder.

Disher said, “This matches our district goal to improve safety around the buildings and be a responsible neighbor, and we support the goal of the partnership to become Washington’s first BearWise community.”


 

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