One man’s trash, another bear’s treasure

A bear peers out of a Tyndall dumpster. (Curiously photo)

A bear peers out of a Tyndall dumpster. (Curiously photo)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- It is estimated up to two dozen bears live on, around or travel through Tyndall's 29,000 acres, and they love the smell of food in a dumpster.

Despite years of trying to keep them out, the bears continue to get inside the dumpsters, often breaking them in the process, and then trekking trash back to the woods.

The 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources Office and Operations Flight along with Coquid Disposal are retrofitting the base's dumpsters to make them wildlife resistant. This is made possible with the help from the National Public Lands Day Legacy Award, a grant from the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program.

"When bears gets into trash, they leave a huge mess of garbage behind, and since we're on a peninsula surrounded by water, it doesn't take much for the trash to blow into a bayou or the shoreline and pollute the area," said Wendy Jones, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources wildlife biologist. "Not only does it look bad, it can be dangerous to the wildlife. Once it is out there it's very difficult to collect all of it."

In previous years, the 325th CES has made many attempts to stop the bears from getting to the trash. They have used taller dumpsters, moved the dumpsters away from the wood line to well-lit areas to scare bears away, switched up the frequency and days for trash pickup and even installed bear lock bars on many of the short dumpsters to prevent the bears from opening them. While this helped, it did not stop them completely.

"Some bears weigh 250 to 400 pounds," said Frederick Wassil, 325th CES Operations Flight contracting officer representative. "If they really want what is inside, they will just sit on top of the dumpster lid and collapse it."

This year, the 325th CES is retrofitting the lids of 25 dumpsters with metal reinforcement to prevent lid collapse. They are also installing lock bolts on the sliding doors of the tall dumpsters to make them more difficult for the bears to open.

This alone will not keep the bears at bay. People can help prevent bear intrusion by following these easy tips:

At work centers
- Ensure the lock bars or door lock bolts are in place on dumpsters
- Take trash out in the morning so food does not sit overnight
- Double bag food items

In housing area
- Do not put garbage cans out at night
- Keep garage doors closed
- Bird feeders are not allowed in housing
- Do not leave pet food outside
- Thoroughly clean barbecue grills or store them in garage
- Do not approach a bear
- Never feed bears

If a person should encounter a bear, the following is recommended:

- Call Security Forces Squadron at (850) 283-2254 or Civil Engineer Squadron Customer Service at (850)283-4949
- Make loud noises
- Raise your arms to make yourself appear bigger
- Make sure the bear has an escape route
- Move pets indoors, pets scare bears
- If the bear will not leave, move to your house, car or a building
- Do not run from the bear, walk away calmly
- Do not look bear directly in the eyes, some animals view this as a threat
- Do not injure or kill the bear, this is a crime