Increasing black bear activity in Missoula’s Rattlesnake neighborhood is forcing the city’s Animal Control agency to crack down on garbage ordinance violations.
Animal Control has handed out 100 letters of notice to homeowners in the Rattlesnake for not complying with waste storage requirements in a bear buffer zone.
Sonney White is with Missoula Animal Control.
"We go out the night before garbage pickup and we take note of all the people that have left their garbage out, which is a violation of the city ordinance," White said.
The ordinance requires that residents living in a bear buffer zone properly store their garbage inside a bear-resistant container or wait to take their garbage out until 5:00 am the morning of pickup.
White says no actual citations have been issued yet, but warns that the possibility is there if homeowners continue to neglect their garbage responsibilities. He says he’ll be returning to the Rattlesnake for reinspections soon.
This is a busy time for bears as they are packing on pounds before entering hibernation. Garbage cans can be easy targets.
Patti Sowka is the Director of the Living with Wildlife Foundation and a consultant specializing in human-bear conflict prevention.
"Once a bear finds garbage, it’s very, very difficult to basically untrain them, even if the bear is moved, relocated. As long as that attractant remains in place, either that bear will come back or new bears will eventually discover the attractant," Sowka said.
She says bear-resistant containers, beyond saving homeowners from citations, are a means to keep bears where they should be, eating what they should eat.
"They will encounter these bear-resistant containers, they won’t get an easy meal out of them, they won’t get a food reward and they’ll turn around and go back into that good prime bear habitat and they’ll go back to looking for what they should be eating, which is bears' natural food sources," Sowka said.
Sowka encourages residents living in bear buffer zones to take bear-resistant storage practices seriously.
Republic Services has bear-resistant garbage containers available for checkout.
You can find a bear buffer zone map on the website for Missoula Bears.