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Trash bear targets Spring Gulch

August 28, 2018

A refuse-gobbling black bear that’s evaded traps in the Spring Gulch area has some residents riled up over their neighbors’ illegal use of non-bear-resistant trash cans.

The bruin got into “several” regular garbage cans — prohibited in the area by Teton County regulations — while making the rounds through subdivisions southwest of Jackson Hole Airport, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Regional Supervisor Brad Hovinga said.

“It seems like we consistently have people that put out unsecured garbage in that area,” he said, “and we tend to have conflicts in that airport area every year. I think most people do a good job, but some don’t.”

While foraging in the overnight hours before Thursday morning’s trash pickup, the black bear overpowered two supposedly bear-proof canisters, one of which was broken, Hovinga said. Live traps were set in the neighborhood that day, but the animal didn’t take the bait.

“We had traps set for two nights, and no catch,” Hovinga said. “The best thing for the bear is to catch them and remove them from the situation. The longer they remain in a conflict situation, the worse it is for the bear.”

The adage “a fed bear is a dead bear” holds water, as Game and Fish customarily euthanizes bears that habitually find their way into trash or other attractants in residential areas. If offending animals don’t have a track record, they’re usually relocated in hopes of breaking the conflict cycle.

It’s unknown if the bear that was feeding on rubbish in the Solitude subdivision and Kings Highway and Queen’s Lane areas has received “food rewards” in the past. A black bear was spotted nearby over the weekend, but it was staying out of trouble, Hovinga said. On the whole, it’s been a slow summer for Game and Fish’s local bear conflict specialists.

“This is only the second garbage bear we’ve dealt with all summer,” Hovinga said. “This has been a very low-conflict year, likely due to a really good berry crop.”

Deidre Bainbridge, a wildlife activist who lives in the neighborhood, worries that the lull in conflict is because trash cans are back in people’s garages — and that when they’re back on the curb next Wednesday night the plundering will resume.

“The bear could die because of an improper food reward,” Bainbridge said. “A lot of people are not happy about this, and the fact that the county doesn’t really enforce the regulation.”

The birdseed and garbage requirements imposed by Teton County’s “bear conflict priority zone” rules are routinely ignored, partly because they’re a zoning regulation and the county has only one half-time staffer devoted to enforcement.

On Bainbridge’s wishlist are enforceable, effective Teton County and Game and Fish regulations that come down on people who ignore rules meant to prevent bear conflict. Violators whose wrongdoings lead to dead bears, she said, should be culpable for Game and Fish’s restitution payments — $25,000 for a grizzly bear, and $5,000 for a black bear.

“That would make a difference,” she said.

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