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Jim Kenyon: Hanover Talks Trash About Bears

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

And to think that until a few weeks ago, Hanover residents thought Animal House was only a movie about Dartmouth frat life.

Then two young bears got inside a family’s home on Thompson Terrace, near Mink Brook Nature Preserve. That led the state bear biologist to give the green light to euthanizing (killing doesn’t sound nearly as humane) a sow and her three offspring that had graduated from dumpster diving to breaking and entering.

But animal lovers around the globe united — more than 10,000 people signed an online petition — which prompted Gov. Chris Sununu to issue a stay of execution. Not a moment too soon for the three young bears, who were trapped, tranquilized and whisked off to the North County in late May.

But while Hanover’s three little bears have been rounded up and deported to the hinterlands, this is no time to get complacent. Mama bear is still on the lam.

And no doubt the news has spread throughout the black bear world that Hanover offers plenty of fine dining. Why forage the forest for nuts and berries when day-old chocolate-frosted crullers from Lou’s Bakery await in a Dartmouth frat’s dumpster?

Sununu’s decree last month that made Hanover a sanctuary community for bears hasn’t helped matters. I imagine now that they enjoy immunity from leg-hold traps and lead poisoning, every bear south of Newfoundland can’t wait to sample what Hanover’s upscale neighborhoods have on the menu. It’s hard to beat curbside garbage cans stocked with sockeye salmon from the Co-op.

So what’s the next move for Hanover officials?

Bear guru Ben Kilham, who lives in neighboring Lyme, pointed out that bears aren’t the problem. People are. Large plastic bags filled with table scraps left on the curb are a bear’s midnight snack. Unlocked dumpsters are an open invitation to an all-you-can-eat bear buffet.

But Hanover could soon be cracking down on bear enablers. Residents and businesses literally could pay a price for not taking proper care of their trash.

Last week, Town Manager Julia Griffin sent an email to Dartmouth housing administrators and Greek organizations informing them the “town will likely be considering an ordinance this summer” aimed at making Hanover less bear-friendly.

“Violators will be assessed a significant fee for failure to comply,” Griffin wrote.

Hanover hopes the threat of fees (a nice word for fines) captures the attention of Dartmouth students who live in off-campus apartments, frats and sororities. Students in these dwellings “tend to be less responsible in managing solid waste,” Griffin wrote.

Whether they are slobs or not, I don’t see students rushing to clean up their trash just to avoid a ticket. What’s a few bucks for failing to properly bag up your leftover pizza when mom and dad are already dishing out $65,000 a year? If the town is serious about scaring Dartmouth students into complying, threaten to confiscate their Canada Goose jackets.

But students aren’t the only bear enablers the town plans to target. According to Griffin’s email, the day is coming when “all residential owners must use bear-proof trash toters which must be stored inside, cannot be put out for pick-up until the morning of collection and which include locking lids.”

On Thursday, I chatted with Griffin who by now probably knows more about bears than Grizzly Adams. “The sow hasn’t been seen much lately,” she said. “We hope she’s out looking for a mate, and cruising his territory, but we expect that eventually she’ll return.”

Most likely long before the proposed ordinance gets on the books. While town officials could be ready this summer, it would still need to go before voters at the next Town Meeting — 11 months away. The Selectboard would also have to sign off.

The town is looking into state public health regulations that cover trash storage and disposal, too. If the regulations can be applied, Hanover might not need its own ordinance, Griffin said.

In the meantime, the town is getting ready to send out a mailing to residents to educate them on why bear-proof trash containers are a good idea.

I found a model online for a mere $1,200. Granted, it was the Tesla of garbage cans, but a 32-gallon receptacle made completely from recycled steel is tempting. Particularly, when it’s available in a color of the customer’s choosing.

Griffin has done her own research at The Home Depot, where bear-resistant trash cans go for $260. “They’re not cheap, but they do work,” she said.

They might also quickly pay for themselves. For a town ordinance to have any effect, the fine for not complying must be fairly steep, Griffin said. In other parts of the U.S. where bear-proof garbage containers have been mandated, first-time offenders can get whacked for $250 or so.

And by offenders, I don’t mean bears.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.