In Chris Colligan’s view, it’s simply not OK that Grizzly Bear 399 can travel through developed parts of Jackson Hole and gorge herself on garbage legally left on the curb outside the confines of a bear-proof container.
If it led to consistent behavior, the curbside snack could prove lethal, potentially dooming arguably the most famous grizzly bear in the world.
“The stakes have gotten a little higher, right?” said Colligan, the wildlife program coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. “It’s time, I think, for action on this issue. That’s what I’m seeing, from Grizzly 399’s movements. It’s just unacceptable for us to think that this issue is going to go away.”
Colligan’s not alone in urging Teton County to take action.
Wildlife photographer Savannah Burgess recently started a Change.org petition imploring public officials to update land development regulations and require bear-proof trash cans throughout Jackson Hole. The call to action, signed by nearly 3,000 people, cites the recent killings of two subadult grizzlies born to Grizzly 610 — bruins whose deaths were spurred by conflicts in developed areas, including accessing unsecured garbage.
“We fear that world-famous Grizzly 399’s cubs will face a similar fate if they are allowed to disperse into the same hostile environment full of unsecured trash if there are no bear proof can ordinances put in place,” Burgess wrote in the petition. “This is the first responsible step into ensuring that these bears have the best chance of survival in their adult life.”
Next summer, when they’re 2 1/2 years old, Grizzly 399’s four cubs will be turned out on their own. They’ll be familiar with some parts of Teton County that fall outside of the “conflict priority zones,” where bear-resistant trash cans are mandatory.
Just last week, Grizzly 399 and her four cubs were photographed on the slopes of High School Butte, which is immediately adjacent to the town of Jackson, where any garbage can is currently legal. The 25-year-old sow bear that became famous for her habit of raising her litters in eyeshot of Grand Teton National Park roads has also tread through northern South Park, an area that’s exempted from Teton County’s bear conflict zones.
A few years ago Colligan was part of a group that assembled to review the Land Development Regulations and recommended Teton County round out its bear-friendly rules. Unanimously, they advised to expand the garbage storage regulation countywide, and also to strengthen bear conflict regulations relating to pet feed, aviaries and chicken coops.
County officials, to date, have not acted on the regulations. Phone calls to two Teton County planning staffers were not returned on Tuesday.
Brenda Ashworth, Teton County’s superintendent of integrated solid waste and recycling, said that her counterparts are trying to adopt two changes to their refuse rules at the same time. One, they’re seeking to add the countywide bear-proof trash can requirement. Simultaneously, they’re looking to implement a “pay as you throw” system that will require garbage haulers to offer three or four sizes of canisters.
“It would be ideal for our community to implement them in conjunction,” Ashworth said. “But integrated waste and recycling is not as far along in our pay-as-you-throw [program] as we would like to be.”
The reason for the delay: Staffing.
“We are severely short-staffed, and working on some of these alternative programs has just taken a backseat to just getting the day-to-day work done,” Ashworth said.
Colligan’s take is that the trash collection reforms ought to be decoupled.
“We can’t just say, oh, you’ve got to wait and figure out pay-as-you-throw, or any of the other hurdles that could be thrown in front of it,” he said. “The urgency is now.”