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Dumpster-diving bear nabbed at Halfway House

| June 2, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

A little ingenuity has helped nab a dumpster-diving black bear.

Dealing with bears too smart and familiar with traditional aluminum cannister-traps, officials with Lincoln County Landfill and Montana Fish Wildife and Parks designed what's believed to be a first-of-its-kind.

It's a dumpster turned into a trap.

On May 11, one day after setting it at the Halfway House on Bull Lake Road, a 300-pound male was caught. The news gave James Pierce relief.

"He just gets into the dumpster and makes a big ole' mess," said Pierce, owner of the Halfway House restaurant-bar. "He's drug garbage all through the yard for a couple 100 yards. It looks like a big major highway of garbage."

The county over the years has had problems with bears getting into dumpsters, said Jon Obst, a game warden with FWP.

"We try to set traps, but we've had limited success," Obst said. "Either these bears were caught before, or they were aware it was a trap and they wouldn't go in."

Working with Ray Miller, manager for the county landfill, they installed a trap door in a dumpster. The bear has to walk through the door to get to the bait.

"When they go for the bait, we have a trip wire in there," Obst said. "When they get in far enough, the cord pulls at the pin and the door drops down."

"I don't think there is any other 'dumpster trap' in the country," he continued. "So far we have had 100 percent success in trapping problem bears that we couldn't catch any other way."

Officials first used the trap last year along Fourth of July Creek in the Yaak. Set in the afternoon, the trap had a bear the next morning.

The bear caught at the Halfway House was transported to the Yaak, Obst said.

It's about 30 miles from the dumpsters in the Yaak, which are surrounded by an electric fence.

For now, the dumpster trap remains at the landfill and will be used when needed.

"I'm just really happy it worked," Miller said.

In a related matter, the county Department of Environmental Health and FWP recently opened its "green box site" in upper Yaak behind the Dirty Shame. Dumpsters are enclosed within chainlink and electric fences, and barbed wire. To keep bears out, the dumpsters are only available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. May through October.

"This is the first year so we haven't seen how well it will work," said Kathi Hooper, sanitarian with the environmental health.

The county provided the location, while FWP paid for the fencing. The project was done through the Grizzly Bear Recovery Program.