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Company offers loans for bear-proof garbage bins in South Lake Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A waste management authority on the south shore of Lake Tahoe has started offering homeowners loans to buy bear-proof garbage bins in an effort to reduce conflicts with the animals who wander into neighborhoods in search of an easy meal.

Bear protection advocates and the Nevada Department of Wildlife long have advocated mandatory bear-proof bins at the lake, but local governments have resisted because of the costs.

The bear box loan program approved by the South Lake Tahoe Basin Waste Management Authority in March allows homeowners to apply for loans of up to $1,200 for the bear-proof containers.

Administered by South Tahoe Refuse, the loan payments span five years and include quarterly payments of up to $65 on top of the regular garbage collection service bill.

“I can tell you that since we’ve launched this program I’ve had over 100 requests and that’s only in the last month or so. They come in every day,” South Tahoe Refuse administrator Jeanette Tillman told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

The only loan qualification is that the resident own a home serviced by the refuse company, which includes Stateline, Nevada as well as the city of South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe-area residences in California’s El Dorado County.

Loan applications require a $50 processing fee and a $100 administration fee once the loan is approved. Homeowners select a bear box from a list of approved vendors and South Tahoe Refuse pays for its purchase and installation.

“Bears train their young to find food, just like humans do. The more food they find, the more likely they are to show their cubs where the food is and many times that’s garbage cans,” Tillman said. “It’s about teaching wildlife that there is no source of food there, and bear containers do that.”

Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League, is among those who have joined the Nevada Department of Wildlife in support of local ordinances mandating bear-proof containers. But she said “this is a huge step in the right direction.”

California’s Placer County approved a similar bear box loan program for residents on the lake’s west shore served by Tahoe Truckee Disposal Inc. in July 2015. On the north shore, a $300 rebate is provided to residents of Incline Village, Nevada, who install a bear box from an approved vendor.

Nevada’s Douglas County reviewed its trash ordinances last year but decided to keep its policy requiring a bear box be installed after two trash offenses within two years. El Dorado County has a similar policy, though it requires all new residential construction to include a bear box. In South Lake Tahoe, bear boxes are never mandated, but citations are issued for trash offenses.

State Wildlife Department spokesman Chris Healy said the state agency believes mandatory bear-proof bins may eventually be the only way to “save bears and allow people to live in and among bears.”

“So any step that goes toward that we welcome,” Healy said.

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