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ESB Tables Roll Cart Ordinance To Seek More Input

on September 28, 2017 - 6:13am

A local resident speaking during public comment at the Environmental Sustianability Board meeting Sept. 21 holds up motion detected lights that she uses to dissuade bears from visiting her home. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/


Members of the community turned out for the Environmental Sustainability Board meeting Sept. 21. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/



Los Alamos Daily Post 


The proposed amendments to the Los Alamos County ordinance for preventing wildlife getting into trash cans ignited a firestorm of debate within the community. In response, the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) decided to table voting on the amended ordinance and opened the issue up to public comment during its regular board meeting Thursday, Sept. 21.


Board Chair John Bliss said the ESB had quite a different ordinance in mind compared to the one discussed at the Sept. 21 meeting. He explained the board hoped to get solutions from the public on how to best address the problem with wildlife, particularly bears, getting into trash. The subcommittee spearheading the ordinance made the changes that were brought forward on Sept. 21 and presented to the remainder of the board members.


Moving forward, County Attorney Alvin Leaphart suggested the board form a subcommittee that would meet with the County legal department so there would be a clearer understanding of what the board wants. He added it also would be an opportunity for the legal department to share its concerns about the ordinance and define what is appropriate and not appropriate for the ordinance.


Bliss emphasized having wildlife coming into town to dumpster dive is a safety issue and the ESB wants to protect the public.


“A fed bear is a dangerous bear and dangerous bear is a dead bear,” Bliss said.

The most significant proposed changes to the ordinance address where a roll cart can be stored and instituting penalties for violating the ordinance. The current proposed revisions state: “Solid waste roll carts shall be stowed in a secure location. The solid waste roll cart shall be stored in an enclosed structure sufficient to prevent the entry of wildlife common to the area such as bears, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and/or crows.”

Furthermore, the proposed revisions include “Penalties: Upon conviction of a first violation of this ordinance within a five-year period as measured from dates of offense, the fine imposed by the Municipal Court shall not exceed $50. Upon conviction of a second or subsequent violation of this ordinance in a five year period as measured from the dates of offense, the fine imposed by the Municipal Court shall not exceed $200.”


Another proposed amendment addresses when the roll carts can be placed for pickup. It states, “Roll-carts are to be removed from streets and sidewalks and neatly stowed by the end of the day of collection and set out for collection no earlier than 4:30 a.m. the day of scheduled collection.”


A number of people offered suggestions ranging from putting ammonia in the garbage cans to setting up a system of motion-detected lights and sounds to dissuade bears from getting into garbage. Game and Fish representative Sean Murphy noted that these were temporary means to deter a bear.


One speaker felt nothing would work; once bears get a taste for human food, they will not return to the wild, she said. Unfortunately, the speaker added, the only option is to euthanize bears that come into town.


Many who spoke that night felt that the proposed amendments were just unfeasible, a hinderance and wouldn’t solve the problem. Local resident Brady Burke said perhaps a number of solutions that fit a variety of situations were needed.


“One solution really isn’t going fit every scenario,” he said. “...I think we need to come up with a range of solutions that are smarter than the average bear.”


He suggested one solution could be having lids on roll carts that are closed with a latch or a clip so bears can’t open it. Another member of the public felt that a public education campaign might be a good a option. She said this is not a bear problem but a human problem; bears have always been here and people need to adjust.


Environmental Services Division Manager Angelica Gurule said there has been a lot of public education. She pointed out there was a bear aware festival held this summer and the Environmental Services Division received a grant from the New Mexico Department of  Game and Fish to purchase bear proof dumpsters. They were placed at numerous locations including El Parasol, Los Alamos Medical Center, Alpine Dental, the Pajarito Cliffs Site and the cemetery. However, some including Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, Sombrillo Nursing Home and Aspen Ridge asked that the bear proof dumpsters at their locations be removed.


Gurule added that the County has distributed 144 clips for roll carts but bears can remove them. She said the County has looked at bear proof roll carts but those  are expensive;  a bear proof roll cart costs about $200 while a normal cart is $75. Environmental Services is currently working on a grant with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to procure these bear tight carts for a reduced cost. These bear tight carts have been grizzly tested and should be available for residents to purchase before the next bear season.

The number one objective for the board, she said, is safety. “They’re working really hard to keep the bears safe and and the community safe.”


This is no simple task. Two representatives from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish provided their input on the issue.


Assistant Chief of Private Lands Program Robert Osborn said based on previous experience from work done in Raton, even if some locations had bear proof dumpsters, the animals would just go to a different part of town that did not have them. It doesn’t necessarily mean the bears will just head back to the mountains, he said. Osborn added the solution is not a “one size fits all answer.” He added a good education campaign is key.


Not only is education key, Small Mammal Program Manager Sean Murphy said, but it needs to be continuous. He said  the  same message needs to be reported repeatedly and in short intervals. “Education is number one for sure,” he said. “It never stops. It always needs to occur.”


Another thing that needs to happen, Murphy said, is to have an ordinance. Before working in New Mexico, Murphy worked in a city in Louisiana that purchased 15,000 bear resistant cans and dumpsters, which totaled $.5 million. The result was more bears were killed and the primary reason was there was no ordinance. People were not held accountable, he said.


While Murphy said he did not know about the local ordinance, he emphasized, “Without an ordinance I do not know of a community bear proofing effort that succeeded. It’s very critical to the success of the program.”


He said it is correct to say bears have always been here and when they mix with humans it is a problem. Still, people can be managed better than bears. What Los Alamos needs to decide is whether it wants a permanent or temporary solution, Murphy said. Things like ammonia and trash can clips are all temporary solutions. Bears are incredibly strong; they can rip apart a roll cart and roll over a dumpster. They also are smart; while a temporary solution might drive them away from one area of town, a bear that is habituated will just move on to another part of town.


NMDG&F Assistant Chief of Private Lands Program Robert Osborn shares his experiences working with municipalities to prevent bears from coming into their towns. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/

NMDG&F Small Mamal Program Manager Sean Murphy emphasized that education and an ordinance are important for deterring bears from coming into town. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/