“We are thrilled to support Leavenworth in becoming Washington’s first bear smart community. For this effort to be successful, there must be a real investment in bear-resistant infrastructure and education. The schools and businesses with new bear-resistant cans are setting an example that we hope is followed by a large-scale rollout of tactics and practices to help both humans and bears in this special place.”
Defenders of Wildlife purchased 40 bear-resistant cans that swapped standard garbage cans this week in areas with frequent bear conflicts as part of a pilot program with the City of Leavenworth and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Defenders hopes this effort is followed by dedicated investments to lower bear-human conflicts from the city and Chelan County.
“We are thrilled to support Leavenworth in becoming Washington’s first bear smart community,” said Zoë Hanley, Defenders of Wildlife senior representative. “For this effort to be successful, there must be a real investment in bear-resistant infrastructure and education. The schools and businesses with new bear-resistant cans are setting an example that we hope is followed by a large-scale rollout of tactics and practices to help both humans and bears in this special place.”
Rollout to the school district and local businesses occurred during the last week of August.
Unsecured garbage is the leading black bear attractant, particularly near Icicle River Middle School and Cascade High School. Despite efforts from the city to coordinate garbage hauling services, black bears continue to make their way into the city.
From 2019 through July 2023, WDFW responded to 48 black bear calls in the city, which covered everything from human confrontations with black bears to property damage, and six bears were lethally removed within city limits for safety reasons. Compared to most Washington communities, this is a high number of incidents.
“My hope is that this project will be an example to the Leavenworth community of how to work together to improve this recurrent issue,” said WDFW Wildlife Conflict Specialist Joe Bridges. “WDFW Enforcement officers and I will be able to physically demonstrate to hotels, restaurants, City Hall, and area businesses what best practices are when it comes to dealing with black bears and provide them with the blueprint to put those practices into use on their own.”
Frequent black bear activity in Leavenworth and the need for bear-resistant products brought Bridges and Leavenworth Public Works Director Tom Wachholder together. As a result, Bridges and Wachholder enlisted Hanley to curb this long-standing issue at the Defenders of Wildlife North Cascades Bear Awareness workshop in September 2022.
"We know that no single action will solve the puzzle of living with bears in a tourist destination,” said Leavenworth City Administrator Matthew Selby. “The solution will require on-going partnerships between the city, Chelan County, our partners in this project, community members and visitors.”
Since there is no bear-resistant tote on the market that would equally replace the city’s current 300-gallon tote, the manufacturer, Northland Products, is closely working with city officials and Bridges to customize a larger alternative. The hope is that when black bears can no longer access the garbage, they will stop trying, helping to improve human safety and saving the lives of bears as well.