- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Grizzly bears have been finding easy snacks lately at Wyoming landfills, the latest twist as more of the potentially dangerous animals venture into populated areas away from their core habitat in and near Yellowstone National Park.

Bears have been turning up at garbage facilities serving Jackson, Cody, Atlantic City and Clark recently. Last week, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department trapped and moved a grizzly and two cubs that were getting free pickings at the Cody landfill.

Black bears are responsible for some of the landfill problems but grizzlies have become a bigger concern for people living at lower elevations, said Brian DeBolt, large carnivore conflict coordinator at Game and Fish.

“It’s definitely an indication of a possible trend,” DeBolt said Thursday. “The potential for conflict is extremely high. Folks that live in and around developed areas just aren’t prepared for constant grizzly bear occupancy.”

Game and Fish hasn’t tallied how many bears it has relocated from landfills recently but the number is definitely up this year, DeBolt said.

A poor berry crop last summer is one reason bears are foraging far and wide as they fatten up for fall. Mostly, though, it’s just a substantial population of grizzlies ranging into new territory, he said.

“It’s inevitable that a landfill or a transfer station is going to be an attractant for the bears that are occupying those areas,” DeBolt said.

The latest population estimate for grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is 714. That’s down from 757 last year but still within the margin of potential error in developing the estimate, according to biologists.

Decades ago, bears used to raid garbage dumps in Yellowstone National Park. Park officials closed the dumps and introduced bear-proofing measures such as garbage cans with self-closing lids.

Outside Yellowstone, closing facilities just because of bears is not really an option. Instead, Game and Fish has been talking with landfill operators about fencing and making sure garbage bins are bear-proof, De Bolt said.

“Then it depends, frankly, on things like open hours. Are those things open all the time? Is somebody going to open them in the morning or close them at night?” he said.

A few years ago, beekeepers in northwest Wyoming began having problems with grizzly raids. Installing electric fences ended that problem.

Bears in landfills won’t be so simple or easy to solve but grants and other means of cost-sharing could help communities with bear-proofing their garbage facilities, DeBolt said.

Though bears have turned up at the Clark landfill just south of the Montana line, not much edible stuff is left out to attract them these days, Park County Landfill Supervisor Tim Waddell said.

The landfill has stopped accepting animal carcasses and household trash goes into bear-proof bins, he said.

The bears trapped at the Cody landfill were the first seen there in five years. Putting electric fence is a possibility but at 60 acres the site off Wyoming Highway 120 a couple miles south of town is getting too big for that option, he said.

“We’re just being bear aware at this point,” he said.

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