Vermonters fail to secure food sources, compost properly, officials say
By Guy Page
700 reports of bear invasions of Vermont homes have been reported this year, already exceeding the 650 reported all last year. Just a decade ago, the annual number of bear invasions was just 150.
According to the Vermont Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, the problem isn’t bears – it’s people.
“Vermont’s black bears are learning to connect humans and food, and becoming bolder,” said wildlife biologist and Black Bear Project leader Jaclyn Comeau.“The number one cause of this dangerous, escalating behavior is Vermonters failing to secure food sources that attract bears. This failure is putting people and bears in danger.”
“Coexisting with our healthy bear population requires all Vermonters to remove potential sources of conflict before problems start,” said Comeau. “Preventing a conflict is much easier than resolving an ongoing conflict and is the safest option for both bears and people. Once a bear has learned truly high-risk behaviors like home entry, lethal control may be needed to protect human safety. No one wants to have to resort to that measure.”
But what has really changed, on the human side? There’s no doubt that more people keep chickens in their backyards. Probably more people fed birds during the pandemic.
But the “composting properly” part of Comeau’s explanation also (pardon the expression) bears looking at.
The Vermont Legislature in 2020 prohibited Vermonters from throwing food scraps in the trash. Dumping food scraps in trashbags and garbage disposals are out. Instead law-abiding Vermonters must drop them off at collection centers, pay a service to haul them away, or compost them in the backyard.
The Legislature reasoned that food scraps take up too much of the state’s dwindling landfill capacity. They also contribute to climate change, as explained by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation: “food that is produced but not eaten contributes 8% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing food waste is one of the single most impactful actions for reducing the effects of climate change. Composting food scraps is also an important climate solution.”
When it is trapped in a landfill, food waste decomposes slowly, and without oxygen. This process produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than CO2 over a 20-year period, DEC explained.
In its directions to Vermonters following passage of the law, DEC was not unaware of the threat posed by bears.
“What about bears and other animals?,” the DEC website post asked rhetorically. “Animals can smell meat and bones, so don’t compost them in your backyard bin. Cover food scraps completely with dry, brown plant material to contain any smells.”
Maybe Vermonters are improperly storing trash in the backyard until they get around to hauling it to the dump.
Maybe they’re composting wrong – too much meat and bones. Maybe not enough coverage of ‘drug, brown plant material’ (grass clippings harvested with the gas-powered lawnmower? leaves?) to keep bears away.
To date, there are no reports of home-invading bears attacking people. But thanks at least in part to the 2020 law that bans tossing food down the garbage disposal or in the trash bag, that may just be a matter of time.