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County applies for funding for bear-proof trash bins in Rattlesnake, Lolo and East Missoula

Black Bear garbage
Posted at 8:43 AM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 12:21:46-04

MISSOULA - The city and county of Missoula hope to land a grant from the Vital Ground Foundation to make bear-smart improvements in several locations, including parks in Lolo, the Rattlesnake and East Missoula.

Much of Missoula is considered habitat for both grizzlies and black bears, and as connectivity dwindles and humans build deeper into the urban interface, advocates are getting louder in asking local government to take steps toward Bear Smart certification.

Jackson Lee with county parks and trails said the $7,500 grant from Vital Ground would help the city and county install bear-proof trash receptacles in several key locations — one small step toward the larger goal sought by advocates.

“This is a joint application with city Parks and Recreation,” he said. “If funded, we’d have improvements at county parks in Bonner, East Missoula, Lolo, and the Rattlesnake.”

Applications for funding to Vital Ground require a number of qualifications, such as preventing conflicts between grizzlies and humans. They also must benefit grizzly habitat or promote connectivity between fragmented territories.

Bear-proof containers would help in those efforts by ensuring municipal waste, recycling, and composting are managed appropriately and aren’t accessible to bears.

“We’re bringing a 2-1 match to the table,” Lee said of the county’s application to Vital Ground. “This initiative is a maintenance priority for both programs.”

Calls for the city and county to update their policies to make Missoula a Bear Smart community are growing louder and now include a petition on Change.org. The program requires a city to earn the designation based upon policies rooted in education and enforcement.

Advocates of earning the designation in Missoula have pointed to a number of city ordinances that could be improved or enforced to protect bears and residents alike. That includes an existing ordinance calling for the “special management of garbage in specific areas within the City of Missoula” and surrounding areas where there are conflicts with bears.

The ordinance requires the proper disposal of garbage and food waste in parts of the city, along with bear-resistant containers and other preventative measures. But the rule is rarely enforced — another issue Bear Smart advocates are pushing for.

“Bear Smart communities are popping up all over the Western United States and Canada as we grapple with the reality of human encroachment on wild places,” the petition on Change.org reads. “In Missoula, we feel the work to become Bear Smart is well past due. Many bears have been killed and yet problems persist.”

Lee said the county will know if Vital Ground approves its funding application in May.