The city of Whitefish on Monday unanimously adopted a new ordinance requiring all residents to use bear-proof trash containers, just as members of the Missoula City Council call for greater local action.
Both cities have ordinances requiring the proper disposal of garbage but even so, they also have issues with bears encroaching on urban areas in search of an easy meal. That often leads to trouble for the bears, which are either relocated or euthanized.
“We have been working with Republic Services as well as Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to look at bear issues in Whitefish,” said Michelle Howke, director of the city’s Administrative Services. “We have garbage being accessed by bears and 300-gallon containers being tipped over in the alley by bears.”
The new Whitefish ordinance will increase the cost of container service to $15.75 per residential unit per month, but all residents who subscribe to garbage collection will receive a 95-gallon bear-proof container.
While some expressed concerns over alley parking, the program’s cost and the lack of bear-proof recycling bins to go with the trash containers, the need to begin with the current effort remained a higher priority given recent conflicts.
“We know of 19 individual bears that were in town on any given day, and we had multiple hundreds of incidents last year,” said Eric Wenum, a wildlife conflict specialist with FWP. “We also had the grizzly bear on Fifth Avenue that killed chickens. She has been removed at this point, but four nights ago we had a radio-collared grizzly bear walk down Fifth Avenue, so this is a real deal.”
While Whitefish has made bear-proof bins mandatory for all residences, Missoula has not taken action to address similar concerns.
FWP in October confirmed that a grizzly sow and two cubs had take up residence in the North Hills of Missoula. A month later, the resident bear was reportedly developing bad habits, largely due to poor human practices surrounding garbage and securing attractants.
Residents and several City Council members have called upon the city to update its policies to make Missoula a Bear Smart community – an effort that included a petition on Change.org. But such requests have remained a lingering topic of conversation with little forward momentum.
“We have a lot of areas where people are seeing bears, and they’re not required to have bear bins. Citations are not given out regularly enough to protect our bears,” said Missoula City Council member Kristen Jordan. “We have a grizzly that has come down into the Rattlesnake with her cubs, and I’d love to see that grizzly bear thrive in our town, and I’d love to make sure our constituents are safe.”