By Laura Keil

Clearwater-based Conservation Officer Colin Kravontka was in town last week doing work he dreads: live trapping garbage-seeking bears in order to destroy them.

This year seems like a particularly bad one in Valemount. Kravontka says there’s no evidence there are more bears around, only that they are more prone to coming into inhabited areas where garbage and smells are plentiful.

Ironically, while talking to Kravontka, I had a smelly garbage bag in my car trunk, a bag I’d hoped to toss at the transfer station, only it was Wednesday and so the dump was closed. So I was considering putting it in an in-town garbage bin, only after speaking to him, I realized this was the worst possible idea. In our chat,  he suggested that people leave garbage inside their house or freeze it, but I don’t own a deep freeze and the smelly bag had already been in my house a few days. Leaving it in my car didn’t seem like the best idea either, since a bear might try to car-jack me for my leftovers.

I imagined the residents of Valemount actually following the advice of the Conservation Office – waiting diligently at the window until the garbage truck pulls up and then moving garbage from their freezer into their bin and to the road. People cutting down fruit trees or picking them so early the fruit is miniature. Okay, he didn’t use those exact words, but he did mention that even mountain ash trees can attract bears if they are hungry enough. 

Imagining people being this diligent without any outside accountability was like imagining bears staying away from tasty garbage using will power. It isn’t going to happen.

So what do we do? Even if we don’t care about bears getting killed, there’s the safety issue of bears – sometimes a mama with cubs – sauntering down our alleys to raid bird feeders, garbage cans and compost, among other things. Not only that, they are hungry, since they’re preparing for winter hibernation. This year, bears have been spotted near the elementary school and homes nearby.

More than anything, I think we need a better strategy (and accountability) for garbage. During bear-hungry months (spring and fall), perhaps garbage pick-up should be twice a week. Perhaps the transfer station should be open 7 days a week, or open some evenings for people who work long days (ie. pipeliners). It’s asking a lot of 12-hour shift workers to move their trash to the dump during their work hours, especially when they’re commuting an hour south of town.

It seems to me that aside from asking people to remove bird feeders and ripe fruit, we need a comprehensive garbage strategy, perhaps with actual fines for breaking the rules to really get the message across. Not a big fine, just something to show the Village/Regional District means business.

Getting individuals to act in tandem for a common cause is one of the most difficult things. It takes each of us being a leader and feeling pride in the results. Can we make our community more bear-proof? With some help from the Village and Regional District, I’m sure we can.