I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. It is a special day to be with friends and families, and copious amounts of food and beverage will be consumed in Highlands. There will be no garbage pickup on Thanksgiving, but on Friday both the Thursday and Friday routes will be run. Please have your garbage out and in secure containers early Friday morning. The bears will also be out looking for turkey carcasses and leftover dressing, which leads me to the next issue.
The bear forum at the October Community Coffee with the Mayor was very informative. The town board and I wanted to know what citizens felt about the current problem of bears in Highlands. I will report back to the board on what I learned and heard at our December 13 meeting.
I came away from the forum thinking it is time for Highlands to become a Bear Smart Community. We now need to implement policies and ordinances that help us coexist and live with the bears. Such a plan would be good for our residents, businesses, visitors and for the bears. Let me outline several initiatives that need to be implemented as soon as possible.
First, the problem of bears rummaging through street trash cans must be stopped. The board is already reviewing options. The bear resistant cans will be expensive and will have to be anchored to the sidewalks so the bears cannot overturn them. These containers will be heavy metal since they will be under assault by some 500-pound bears. I anticipate the board deciding to place these cans on all public gathering properties, for example, Main and 4th Streets, Founders Park, the small park at Harris Lake, the Recreation Center, and at the ball field.
The second initiative should address the problem of shared dumpsters. Wherever possible, I believe individual bins for each commercial user works best to deter bears. For businesses where larger amounts of food waste are being disposed, additional protocols may be required. Some merchants point out people dump residential garbage in their dumpsters. This new bin system, along with signs warning violators, or even cameras, may greatly curtail this problem.
A third initiative would require bear-resistant containers in residential areas. Some folks do the irresponsible act of putting their plastic garbage bags on the roadside on pickup day. That is a bear magnet practice. While bear-resistant containers would greatly curtail the bear problem in neighborhoods, they are not cheap, about $200 a piece. At the coffee forum I suggested residents could rent a bear-resistant toter from the town or purchase their own.
Another part of being a bear-smart community is having ordinances concerning bear management. For instance, a residential customer that did not use a bear resistant container would be warned, and their garbage would not be picked up. If that person continued to not use bear-resistant containers, citations and fines might be in order. The use of bird feeders and consciously feeding bears would also be areas where ordinances apply.
The most critical component of being a bear smart community is education. As pointed out at the bear forum by Cynthia Strain of the B.E.A.R. Task Force, the town and community need to develop strategies to educate residents, businesses and visitors about proper bear management procedures.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor