Grizzly-proof container program faces overhaul

Jan. 22, 2011 at 8 a.m.
Updated Jan. 21, 2011 at 7:22 p.m.

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Wildlife officials in the Northern Rockies are considering an overhaul to a program that tests bear-resistant containers in response to increased demands on the government-subsidized effort.

Gregg Losinski with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee says the group's seal of approval for bear-resistant trash bins, campground food boxes and other containers has drawn interest from across the country and as far away as Eastern Europe.

Containers are certified by the committee if they survive intact after being filled with food and placed in an enclosure with a captive grizzly bear. As demand for such products increases, wildlife officials are considering contracting out the testing through a nonprofit organization and increasing certification fees.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species across the lower 48 states.

But after a decades-long recovery, there now are more than 600 of the animals in and around Yellowstone National Park and more than 800 in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, which is centered on Glacier National Park.

And more bears means more conflicts with humans - many of which begin with grizzlies developing a taste for human foods that they get out of the trash.

"You want to make (containers) that are strong and durable - that an 80-year-old woman can get out of her house but that a bear can't get into," Losinski said. "There are bears worldwide and people are looking to the IGBC to be the leaders and come up with a solution" to prevent conflicts with humans.

Government agencies and private groups now spend more than $50,000 annually to test dozens of products at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone.

Losinski said companies stand to make profits of tens of thousands of dollars if they can sell bear-proof garbage cans and trash bins to large subdivisions. That's versus testing fees that range from $150 to $250 depending on the size of container.

Patti Sowka with the Living with Wildlife Foundation in Swan Valley said she will be the main point of contact for the testing program until the overhaul is complete.

Already this year Sowka said there have been certification requests for three products - a bear-resistant Dumpster, a metal frame to hold non-bearproof garbage cans, and a 35-gallon steel drum for outfitters and shepherds that need to feed their animals in the backcountry.

"We will be starting testing early this year. We're anxious to get these products potentially on the ground before the bears start to wake up," Sowka said.

She added that she is working with a group in British Columbia to establish a bear-testing program in Canada.



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