By Erika Webb
Members of the DeBary City Council looked a little perplexed at the Dec. 5 meeting when a man approached them, dragging a large garbage can behind him.
Mike Orlando is the assistant bear program coordinator for FWC. Lately he's been talking a lot of trash with city and county officials around Central Florida.
Mainly what residents and local government might be able to do about the scattering of household refuse all over yards and roadways -- the result of black bears scavenging.
"We have bear problems," Mr. Orlando said. "We're going to continue to have bear problems, and greater than 60 percent are garbage related, but we do have solutions."
Specifically, the Bear Resistant Poly-Cart.
What the FWC is proposing to affected cities, counties, residents, homeowners' associations and waste management companies, is to explore ways to purchase the new cans.
"Obviously we (FWC) don't mandate that you use the cans," Mr. Orlando told the council. "The issue we're having now is paying for them."
One suggestion he made is for waste management companies to agree to service the bear-resistant cans should residents decide to purchase them outright, either online or from home improvement stores.
Another is for those who want to participate to pay a $5 to $10-monthly ancillary service fee to rent the can. Or, he said, the payment could be made in a lump sum at the end of the year.
Volusia County's solid waste division contracts with Republic Services of Volusia County for waste collection from 44,000 homes in unincorporated areas.
Residents are charged for service through an annual $190 non-ad valorem assessment per residential unit.
DeBary is contracted with Waste Pro through 2018.
DeLand and Orange City currently use WCA Waste Corp. for solid waste, yard waste and recyclable collections.
"However that happens has to come through the county and cities because you can't have people popping up willy-nilly with these cans," Mr. Orlando said. "We have to be sure the waste management company will service them."
The number of bear reports received by the FWC throughout the state more than doubled from 2008 to 2012; nearly 65 percent were from the northeast region, which includes Volusia County.
Mr. Orlando said more bears, more people and a compromised natural food supply were responsible for the jump.
"A 2007 drought caused a massive food shortage and drove bears into neighborhoods," Mr. Orlando said. They found an easy way to make a living and it seems like in 2008 and 2009 many bears didn't go back."
Combating the problem individually has brought out the Tim "the tool man" Taylor in many who have employed the use of seat belts, bungee cords, hasps and other implements to stop the ravaging. But mostly the bears win.
In 2011, FWC received more than 4,000 bear-related calls statewide, regarding bears accessing unsecured garbage cans. Early that year FWC partnered with the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Emerald Waste Services -- then contracted to service Volusia's unincorporated areas -- and Volusia County in a one-year pilot project to determine the effectiveness of the bear-resistant cans in reducing human-bear conflicts.
Using funds from the Conserve Wildlife license tag, FWC purchased 150 poly-carts to be used in a pilot program in the community of Glenwood. Bear-resistant receptacles were delivered to residents from Lime to Lemon streets in February 2011.
FWC is calling the pilot study successful.
"We put out 125 cans (in an area where) 75 percent of folks were having bear problems. That went down to 5 percent afterward," Mr. Orlando said.
With enough "seed" money from the tags, Mr. Orlando said FWC is willing to offer a free trial to some residents in affected areas for a period of about six months. After that, residents who want to keep the cans would pay a minimal fee for rental.
"I think it's a fairly decent business model. Our options are almost unlimited at this point," Mr. Orlando said.
In Volusia County the areas most affected are DeBary, Orange City and unincorporated areas surrounding DeLand.
"We don't have a major problem in Deltona," Mr. Orlando said. "It's more toward the river, everything on the border of the forest, which is just that much farther away from Deltona and the city of DeLand proper."
One obstacle that must be overcome is the automated arm some waste management companies use to empty garbage cans into the trucks. He said for now someone has to unlock the lid on the bear-resistant cans, costing precious time.
"Sometimes technology lags a little, too," Mr. Orlando said. "I'm waiting on a (can) sample with two paddles on the side. Like a pair of tongs, the arm will grab the sides to grip the can, compresses the paddles and unlocks the can. The lid will lock again when (the can) is put down because the paddles aren't depressed anymore."
Northland Products developed the first bear-resistant refuse cart designed for pick up by fully-automated, grabber-style refuse handling systems and all semi-automated refuse handling systems.
Kodiak products, along with Living with Wildlife Foundation, tested a similar product with grizzly bears. Kodiak recommends viewing the videos on their website, www.kodiak-products.com, for a look at the "clever nature of bears" as they try to open one of Kodiak's containers.
BearSaver claims to be North America's leading supplier of bear-resistant enclosures and containers with residential Poly carts ranging in price from $129-$216.
"In Volusia County we've been hammered with complaints," Mr. Orlando said. "I've been making my rounds to get folks to know there's something out there and get someone to jump on board with us to start projects. Seminole County is very interested."
He said some rural residents in other counties have been well served by shared bear-resistant dumpsters placed at the end of roads.
In an emailed response to questions, Pat Kuehn, the spokeswoman for Volusia County, wrote: "When we get a request from a resident about bear-resistant cans, we suggest that they go to www.kodiak-products.com, where they can purchase one on their own. The county does not plan to purchase bear-resistant cans at this time."
Finally, Mr. Orlando emphasized the detriment to humans and bears that arises from feeding them. He said some people like to lure bears with food for entertainment.
Almost always, he said, hand-feeding a bear will result in the agency having to destroy the animal.
"They're like big dogs," he said. "They'll be very nice to you when you're handing them food."
But, he added, once they are hand fed they tend to think every human should feed them and can become aggressive toward the person who won't participate.
"It's dangerous to the people and deadly to the bears," he said.