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Foothill residents in Duarte look for ways to keep bears out of trash cans

January 29, 2010 |  3:38 pm

Nita Norgard was popping popcorn in the kitchen of her Duarte Mesa home, the buttery fragrance wafting out through the backdoor left ajar, through the open garage, into the forested areas beyond.

Still, she was surprised to find a 2-year-old bear sniffing around the front room when she turned around. Norgard screamed, and the bear bolted, said her husband, Bill Norgard.

"Probably scared him just as much," he joked.

The Norgards' close encounter with a bear six months ago is one of many incidents that have led Duarte city officials to look for ways to keep bears from ripping into residents' garbage cans.

Some residents complained this week to the Duarte City Council that their bear-resistant trash bins are no match for increasingly aggressive bears. In response, officials with Burrtec Waste Industries, which hauls trash for the city, said they would soon offer a stronger alternative.

The new bins, with three security latches instead of one, would cost participating residents $6 more a month.

“Nothing is totally bear proof,” Mayor Margaret Finlay said today, “but I think it will be enough to discourage them enough so that berries might start looking pretty good again.”

The bears have been creeping down from hillier areas into lower foothill neighborhoods over the last year as their habitats have been scarred by wildfires, residents said.

"Anything the bear would like to eat, we put in the freezer -- honey, peanut butter, cottage cheese, meat, food scraps, bread, they're not real big on vegetables -- and on trash day we put it in the trash can," said Bill Norgard, a 35-year resident of Duarte Mesa, a hilly neighborhood in Duarte.

He said he had never seen a bear on his property until four years ago.

Duarte Mesa residents are not allowed to put out their bins until 6 a.m. on trash day. City officials were considering expanding the rule to two lower foothill neighborhoods, but residents protested.

In response, the idea was dropped, but Deputy City Manager Karen Herrera praised Burrtec's efforts to build bear-resistant bins.

"It's all about minimizing that food source," she said. "Because that is what attracts the bears."

In any case, enterprising bears can always find a way into a plastic bin, said Richard Nino, director of municipal services for Burrtec.

"They just shatter the upper half of the container," he said. "They can hop on it; they may lean on it and pop off the lid, claw at it. They are very determined to get in there."

-- Amina Khan