“This is the only place in the state of Louisiana that we have bear-proof cans. St. Mary Parish can step up to the plate and be the best test or the worst little failing test ever … We just need the residents to step up,” said Catherine Siracusa, parish black bear conflict officer.
There are about 600 bear-proof cans in Patterson south of the railroad tracks, and about 1,300 parishwide between Cypremort Point and Patterson, Siracusa said. They cost an estimated $250,000, according to Maria Davidson, large carnivore program manager for Wildlife and Fisheries.
“A bear’s existence, he’s about filling those calories. He’s not a predator. He wants to get the most amount of calories in the shortest amount of time. He’s an opportunist,” Siracusa said.
Bears raid trash cans because human food is high in those necessary calories. Bears like pizza, fried chicken and ketchup, particularly. “The smells of fast food are an attractant to the bears,” Siracusa said.
Overflowing trash cans, or those without properly engaged bear-proof lids, are attractive to bears for this reason.
Garbage pickup in Patterson occurs four days each week. Siracusa would like to see the entire area picked up on the same two days. That way, she said, the garbage attractant would only be available on select days, allowing for tighter supervision and less interaction with the bears.
Siracusa said she has worked closely with Progressive Waste Solutions. The company only has one truck with a wide enough opening to accommodate the bear-proof cans. They use that one to avoid damaging the lids unless it breaks down, she said.
Angela Gunner, a secretary for Progressive Waste Solutions in St. Mary Parish, said drivers who notice damaged cans — whether by trucks, residents or bears — let her know the address to put it on a list for repairs.
“We’re trying to take care of this issue. We know the bears are coming out and they are having trouble with the bears, with the cans. We’re doing our best to get this issue resolved. At least to help,” Gunner said.
Until the can is repaired, “bag everything up. Tie it up as tight as possible in case the lid is broken until we can have it replaced,” Gunner said.
Siracusa suggested using ratchet straps on the can until Progressive can get it fixed.
“Honestly, the condition of the cans, they’re looking the best they’ve looked since we put them out there,” she said. Progressive currently has 250 new bear proof cans on order. They cost over $200 each, none of which is trickled down to the resident.
She said if a resident notices a can is damaged, they should contact Progressive but also report it to her office. That way, she said, she can follow up.
“It’s a help to the garbage company. It’s a help to the resident. It’s a help to our program,” Siracusa said.
Siracusa acknowledged the cans in use may not be the best design.
“It’s an ongoing process … we were given a product to use (by the state). Using this product … has been a learning process.”
Use of the cans is not a state mandate, though.
“This is something that everyone agreed should be done and help assist to keep the residents safe,” Siracusa said.
As to overflowing cans, in which the bear-proof top cannot be latched, Siracusa may have an answer.
In other parishes, garbage operators give an “Oops statement” to residents with overflowing cans stating that they cannot pick up the garbage until the can is secured in a way that would not spill onto the street. The effect is that garbage is not picked up until the resident is in compliance.
St. Mary Parish does not have this service in its garbage contract, Siracusa said.
“We can’t point fingers. This is not a finger pointing time. We have to look at it and say this is what has been done, this is what needs to continue to happen, and this is what needs to come on board,” Siracusa said.
To contact Siracusa, call her office at 337-828-4100, extension 371; cell at 337-350-0608; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.