Bear-proofing Jackson Hole may be easier said than done

KHOL interviews Jackson Hole News&Guide reporter Billy Arnold about his recent coverage of Teton County's new wildlife mitigation efforts.
Bear-resistant trash containers like this one are required across most of the public lands surrounding Jackson Hole, but many of the populated parts of Teton County were free of similar regulations until earlier this year. Now, local trash haulers are working hard to implement a major infrastructure shift. (Jody./Shutterstock)

Teton County is trying to step up its defenses and mitigate conflicts with bears and other wildlife through new regulations passed earlier this year. Starting July 1, bear-resistant trash containers will be required in most of Jackson Hole, and other requirements are in place for folks with bird feeders, beehives and livestock pellets. But according to reporter Billy Arnold of the Jackson Hole News&Guide, implementing and enforcing the new rules is easier said than done.

KHOL’s Will Walkey interviewed Arnold about his recent story, “As bear-resistant cans roll in, what’ll it take to lock up attractants in Jackson Hole?” to learn more.

The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

WILL WALKEY/KHOL: Billy Arnold has reported on almost everything in Teton County. Right now, he’s reporting on the environment, among other things, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Thank you so much for joining me, Billy.

BILLY ARNOLD: No problem. Thanks for having me. 

KHOL: So, the county passed new laws earlier this year basically requiring new infrastructure aiming to mitigate wildlife conflicts in Jackson Hole. Most notable is bear-resistant trash containers being required countywide for businesses and residents. How’s the rollout of that going so far?

ARNOLD: Yeah, so it’s actually a bit hard to say. There are a number of haulers, or trash haulers, in the county that are able to provide bear-resistant trash cans to their residential customers. We were only able to talk with one hauler for our story, and that was Yellow Iron Excavating & Waste Removal. And, you know, they said they’ve delivered about 20 new trash cans since the regulations were passed. At the same time, there’s a nonprofit named Jackson Hole Bear Solutions, which is an offshoot of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, that’s raised about $200,000 to buy trash cans and offer them both at reduced costs and full cost, which for them ranges from $50 to $325 a day. By Tuesday [May 17, they] had sent out about 113 cans.

Jackson Hole Bear Solutions estimates that we need 3,400 bear-resistant trash cans. So, you put that together—113 cans from Bear Solutions plus 20 from Yellow Iron, maybe assume a similar number from the other haulers—and it seems like there’s probably still a ways to go. 

KHOL: Do you think it’s possible that that rollout can happen by, I believe it’s July 1, when the regulations technically become a thing?

ARNOLD: Talking with the haulers, they’re confident they can get those cans to people in time. But what became kind of clear to me as I was reporting is that this is really still an individual issue. July 1, people are going to be required to have bear-resistant trash cans countywide. And the two main areas where that’s a new requirement are Rafter J and Melody Ranch. That won’t be enforceable until Nov. 1, though.

[Chief] Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery did tell me that the county would begin following up with people starting in July. All that said, it’s hard to say whether we’ll meet that July 1 deadline. And largely, it seems as though it will depend on whether people are requesting and seeking out these trash cans and whether community leaders are able to get the word out in time. 

And I say that because talking with Yellow Iron, they said that they are more than happy to provide the trash cans, but they’re not going to be in the business of enforcing the regulations. So, even people who are working with haulers that have bear-resistant trash cans, in order to get those cans, [they] are going to need to be asking for them. 

KHOL: You’ve talked to wildlife biologists for the story and for plenty of others covering this issue. I think it’s important to note for folks who might not know why this is important, why did the county go to such lengths to require bear-resistant containers countywide? What are they hoping to accomplish? 

ARNOLD: So, I think the larger goal here is to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and black bears in the community and then ultimately make the community a safer place both for humans and black bears and grizzly bears. Because if bears get into trash, you know, they can be hazed, they can be relocated, they can be removed either lethally or by means of live placement. But all of those are, you know, management actions that I think everybody would like to avoid, especially for Grizzly 399 and her cubs. 

And wildlife managers have said this year that all options are on the table. And I think that confluence of factors—you know, 399 coming through town and the possibility of more drastic management action being taken there—I think is definitely something people are trying to avoid.

KHOL: So, part of these regulations in my eyes are trying to create sort of a culture of bear safety around Jackson Hole. The other reason is also trying to crack down on things like wildlife feeding. Can you talk a little bit about enforcement? We know that it’s not going to happen by July 1, but by Nov. 1, they’re hoping to have more officers. What might enforcement look like, say, next year at this time?

ARNOLD: For the county, enforcement is kind of a complicated picture. The way it works is this is a land development regulation. And my understanding from talking with [Chief Deputy] County Attorney Keith Gingery is that, in order for the county to actually issue a fine, there’s a multi-step process. The first is sending a letter to someone who’s violated the code. If that person does not stop that action, the next thing that the county can do is take it to a public hearing in front of the board of county commissioners. If the county commissioners decide that there has been a violation, [and] it hasn’t stopped, they can elevate the issue to circuit court. And once it goes to circuit court, that’s when that person can be fined. So, it’s a multistep process to get to a fine. 

But, you know, Keith Gingery pointed out, that is the ultimate one end of the enforcement spectrum. And, you know, county officials’ line has been for some time that people will generally stop whatever they’re doing after they get that initial letter from the county. And there’s a mixed bag of opinions in the wildlife community about what that means.

Talking with the executive director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, she told me, you know, just having a law on the books, she thinks, will help people comply with it. But then you have Kristen Combs from Wyoming Wildlife Advocates on the other side that feels [that] without there being a more clear penalty or enforcement happening really until November, people aren’t really going to take it seriously. So, kind of a mixed bag there. 

KHOL: We’re going to have a law on the books. A lot of people are going to get bear-resistant trash containers. There’s still going to be people that can’t get it for whatever reason. There’s still going to be people that don’t want to get it for whatever reason. Is this law going to be enough in the sense that it will actually make a meaningful difference in reducing bear conflicts, if there’s going to be this percentage of people who aren’t going to do it? 

ARNOLD: I don’t know the answer to that question. I will say there are definitely barriers to people getting bear-resistant trash cans. Wyoming Wildlife Advocates and their spinoff nonprofit Jackson Hole Bear Solutions is trying to address that by offering reduced-cost trash cans to people that can’t afford $400 for a can. 

And I think something that I was trying to point out in the article is that bear-resistant trash cans, residential trash cans, are only one part of that picture. There’s also commercial dumpsters, which haulers are, frankly, it seems, having trouble figuring out how to get bear-resistant commercial dumpsters. And then there’s also just individual behavior as well. I talked to a few birders who said they’d been bringing their bird feeders [in], and some people had been, you know, still keeping hummingbird feeders up. That still is an attraction for bears. So, there’s a few things beyond just bear-resistant trash cans that will make “bear-proofing” Jackson Hole a little bit more difficult.

KHOL: Where can people go to find information? What else should people know about these new laws coming on the books?

ARNOLD: As far as getting a bear-resistant trash can, the two places that I would start are calling your trash haulers. There’s three main ones in the county. It’s Yellow Iron Excavating & Waste Removal, Westbank Sanitation and Teton Trash Removal. I would start there and then also look to Jackson Hole Bear Solutions because they do have cans and they are trying to fundraise another few thousand dollars to order another 280 cans. So, in total, they’ll have 560 bear-resistant trash cans. So, all that’s to say, there’s a lot of resources out there. 

BearWise Jackson Hole is a great place to start, also, if you’re just curious about how to just lock up attractions in general and [if you’re wondering] what am I doing that may not be bear safe? They’ve got recommendations in all kinds of things. And I know that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been helping people as well, locking up things like livestock, feed, compost—all of which again, is part of this regulation. And they’ve been helping people with fencing and other things to make that bear safe. So, there’s a lot of people that are working on this in the community. But on the trash can front, I’d say start with your hauler and the people that have the cans. 

KHOL: Thank you so much for joining KHOL. Really appreciate it.

ARNOLD: No problem. Thank you for having me.

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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