Dumpster diving bears
Reducing bear conflicts at a Madison County dump
A hydraulic system for new mechanical lids at the Nevada City dumpsite was installed to help keep trash contained and out of reach from bears Oct. 2.
Each dumpster has a control panel to operate the opening and closing of the hinged steel lids. As Madison County’s most popular dumpsite for bears, the county and wildlife specialists united behind the project.
“I’ve been in discussions with Madison County over a decade about doing something,” project leader Steve Primm said.
Primm based the design on a Lake County dumpsite in the Swan Valley that has been successful, but it is the first of its kind for Madison County.
The system is solar powered, charging six batteries on location and cost about $15,000 to install. Funding came from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, the town of Virginia City and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Recovery Initiative grant. The grant committed $238,000 in 2016 to support bear coexistence efforts in and around Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and southwest Montana.
CRI projects focus on implementing needed actions for critically endangered species’ survival or implementing recovery actions for species near delisting or reclassification or implementing actions that significantly improve the status of listed species.
The 2016 CRI grant supports on-the-ground projects in the area that reduce conflicts between humans and bears, funding bear education, bear spray training and projects to reduce bear-attractants on the landscape.
With trash being a major attractant to bears, the Nevada City dumpsite was a suitable project to receive funding from the grant. Bears increasingly become bolder around people, if they are conditioned to an unnatural and accessible food source, according to USFWS.
Since Brian Lloyd started working as a warden for Montana’s Region 3 Fish, Wildlife & Parks five years ago, seven black bears have been trapped at the Nevada City dumpsite. All were relocated at least 50 miles away and tagged, but one returned and had to be euthanized.
“No grizzlies yet,” Lloyd said. “But this is a corridor from the Greenhorns to the Gravellys. They’re around.”
Bears can smell over 10 miles away, so the funk of the dumpsites attracts bears. But if a bear does not get rewarded for its travels with food, it will pass through and likely not be tempted to return. People using the dumpsite will be a factor in the effectiveness of this project.
Madison County residents are responsible for properly disposing their trash at one of the 10 landfill-transfer sites in the county. Free of cost and open 24/7, it is not a common trash system seen in counties today, according to Madison County’s Solid Waste and Recycling board member, Tikker Jones.
Dumpsites close while FWP is trapping a dumpster diving bear, inconveniencing residents who have to travel father away to dispose of trash. Reducing bears’ access to trash and keeping them moving through the area, results in a more available dumpsite for the public.
From watching grizzly bears move large animal carcasses with ease, Primm designed the mechanical lids with bears’ strength in mind. The steel lids weigh about 1000 pounds.
“And with the hydraulic back pressure on there,” Primm said. “They can’t lift them.”
Baker Light Industries out of Alder installed the solar panel and wired it to the batteries inside the three orange metal bins, which are placed in front of the dumpsters. Using solar energy was the cheapest option for powering the project, and the batteries should last 10 to 12 years with little needed maintenance, according to Primm.
Fury Metalworks out of Ennis designed the control panels that directs people to press and hold the buttons to open and close the lids.
“It’s a super great approach,” Jones said. “Trying to make an impact on the bear problem in a sustainable manner.”