Garbage wrangling was the topic of the day at the Bear Task Force meeting on Feb. 19. Discussion covered the cost and feasibility of bearproofing Community Waste Solutions dumpsters, the potential for requiring bearproof residential trash containers, and the role of education versus regulation in preventing dangerous bear-human interactions.

Community Waste Solutions manager Craig Franke came to the meeting having researched the price of bearproofing the company’s fleet of dumpsters, which are leased on a monthly basis to businesses and individuals. Franke said the most economical option for bearproofing dumpsters is retrofitting them with bear-grade, reinforced plastic lids and securing these to dumpsters with a chain. He said the retrofitting would cost, at minimum, $140 per lid.

At present, Community Waste Solutions has 30 two-yard dumpsters and 25 one-yard dumpsters. Four are currently bearproofed. While all of the 1-yard dumpsters have steel lids and would only need a chain installed in order to be considered bear-proof, 24 of the 2-yard dumpsters have plastic lids that would need to be replaced at a minimum cost of $140 per lid or $280 per 2-yard dumpster, Franke said.

In total, it would cost roughly $7,000 to outfit the current Community Waste Solutions dumpster fleet with bearproof lids. Moving forward, any new dumpsters the company purchases will be bear-proof, Franke said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch, who had called into the meeting, said tethering dumpsters to the ground so bears cannot tip them over is another important aspect of bearproofing. (Dumpsters that have been tipped over are hard to right and are easier for bears to access, he said.)

Franke said that while he has the manpower to install lids and chains by the end of the summer, he’s not sure he has the budget to accomplish all the bearproofing this year. He said he would likely bearproof dumpsters in areas with the highest bear activity this year and save the rest of the work for the following year. Haines Police chief Heath Scott said he could provide Franke with data about which parts of the borough placed the highest number of bear-related calls last year.

Scott said Franke should work to finalize a budget and timeline for the dumpster bearproofing. He said it might be possible for Community Waste Solutions to receive financial assistance from an outside source like the borough or the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. Bear foundation president Pam Randles said the organization might have funding to contribute.

The task force discussed whether any of their potential recommendations would make sense as code changes. Franke said he’s not a fan of more laws but there could be other dumpster owners in the future beyond Community Waste Solutions. It would make sense to formalize some requirements for bearproofing dumpsters, he said.

“I would hate for people to have to go through this process all over again down the line,” task force member Shannon Donahue said.

The task force discussed whether it would make sense to regulate residential trash containers through code as communities like Juneau have done. In Juneau, residents cannot put their garbage out until 4 a.m. on collection day unless garbage is in a bear-proof container, Koch said.

Scott said recommended guidelines for residential trash disposal might be better than formal regulation. Community Waste Solutions and other businesses in town could either rent or sell bear-proof residential bins, creating the potential for conversion over time, he said.

Koch said that based on experience in Juneau, this might not happen organically and could necessitate formal regulation down the line.

Scott suggested it would make sense to revisit any task force recommendations at the end of next bear season when they will have a better sense of what is and isn’t working. “At that point, if we’re still seeing a high call volume, we may need to talk about code changes.”

If this year’s pink salmon run is as low as last year’s, it’s likely Haines will experience the same elevated bear levels again, Randles said. Koch said the pink forecast this year is once again dismal.

If the forecast is accurate, this would put pressure on Community Waste Solutions and the borough to address garbage issues by the end of the summer, Scott said.

The Bear Task Force will meet next on March 18 at 10 a.m. to finalize its recommendations in time to add them to the agenda of the assembly meeting the following week.