Composting and Bears: Adjusting to Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law

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Bears may be attracted to human food sources, so a few steps must be taken to reduce problems between bears and people.

Bears may be attracted to human food sources, so a few steps must be taken to reduce problems between bears and people.

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Bears in Vermont are already thinking about winter, and are currently in search of easy calories to fatten up. Residential trash bins, bird feeders, pet food, and beehives can become bear attractants if not properly secured. Composting in bear country may also be an issue, and many residents wonder how to compost without enticing curious bears.

While food scraps left outside in trash cans or composters may attract hungry bears, Vermonters can take a few measures to minimize conflicts, according to Forrest Hammond, bear project leader with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

“With more Vermonters choosing to compost, we want to help them prevent any potential problems with bears,” said Hammond.  “People can effectively reduce the chances of bears causing damage to their property and protect the bears as well.”

Hammond recommends that people maintain a compost bin that is as scent free as possible, which will help avoid attracting bears with their powerful sense of smell. This can be done with regular maintenance of the pile by adding three parts carbon-rich ‘brown’ materials like dry leaves, straw, or ripped up paper for every one part food scraps or ‘green’ materials.

Additionally, turning the pile every couple of weeks and burying fresh food scraps down in the pile helps reduce their attractiveness. Residents interested in home composting should know that Vermont’s Universal Recycling law, which will be fully implemented in 2020, does not require them to compost meat and meat-related food scraps when the food scraps are composted by a resident at home.

However, if bears are already common in your area, Hammond says there are other options. “If you believe that bears may become a problem, consider taking your food scraps to your local drop off facility or composter that accepts food scraps.”  Other methods could include burying food scraps deeply in your garden, known as trench composting, or using a home solar digester such as the Green Cone or Algreen’s Solar Digester.

Compost is not the only food source that may interest bears. “If you live where bears are common, your trash and pet food bins must be properly secured, using a bear-proof container if necessary.” said Hammond.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department also recommends that bird feeders be removed between April 1 and November 30, and that beehives and chicken coops should be secured with electric fencing in bear country.

Because bears make a habit of feeding on human food sources once they find them, Hammond says that residents should carefully manage and secure all trash, bird feeders, pet foods, and compost.

“It is extremely difficult to relocate a nuisance bear,” said Hammond.  “Sadly, these bears sometimes need to be put down in order to protect human health. In Vermont we treasure our wildlife and we want to ensure our children have a chance to enjoy experiencing these animals well into the future. It’s up to people to avoid attracting bears before a bear becomes an issue.”

Residents are now required by law to remove bear attractants and are prohibited from killing problem bears without first taking extensive non-lethal measures.

For more information on living with black bears, visit the “Living with Wildlife” page at vtfishandwildlife.com.  For more information on Vermont’s new Universal Recycling Law, including the Materials Management map of local composting facilities, go to recycle.vermont.gov.

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