Bears disturbing garbage cans in Patterson

PATTERSON, La. — Black bears are no longer just searching for food south of the railroad tracks in the city.

The bears have now made their way to other parts of the city, Mayor Rodney Grogan said.

“We may be entertaining … going with bear proof cans on this side,” Grogan said.

Residents south of the railroad tracks in Patterson are already required to have bear-proof garbage cans, but black bears are now getting into cans on the north side of the tracks.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Catherine Siracusa, St. Mary Parish black bear conflict officer, and Roddy Matherne of Progressive Waste Solutions, talked about their collaborative efforts over the past four years of trying to keep bears from getting into garbage cans and getting into the city.

Progressive Waste Solutions is the city’s garbage pickup contractor.

The city has had issues with residents overfilling their garbage cans allowing easier access for bears to get inside the cans, Siracusa said. “This year … our weather is mild. So male bears are not staying in. There’s no reason for them to sleep. This time of the year, there’s no food source for them as well,” she said. “So they are coming more into subdivisions.”

Two male bears in the area have figured out which cans have maintenance issues and are pulling the cans.

Progressive Waste Solutions now has about 1,300 bear-proof cans in the parish, Matherne said. “As we keep on putting carts, they keep moving to where the carts are not,” he said. When the company started providing bear-proof cans seven years ago, it had about 400 cans in the parish, he said.

Siracusa started a campaign going door to door with junior high school and high school students from local 4-H clubs in the parish hanging clear plastic bags with general information on what they can do to attract wildlife, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, while not attracting bears she said. The packets included information on what to plant to attract certain “critters” without “openly putting human food out,” Siracusa said.

Progressive Waste Solutions also brought a truck along and they targeted about 400 or 500 residences south of the railroad tracks handing out information packets citing state laws that it is illegal to feed bears and provided a parish ordinance that states that residents are not allowed to leave their garbage cans at the curb 24/7, Siracusa said.

She and the student groups took the approach of giving people fliers on what they could do to attract certain animals instead of telling people what not to do to keep bears away, she said. They advised residents to put up bird houses instead of setting food out in a bird feeder. “When you put a bird house, you’re encouraging birds to nest to reproduce,” she said.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting recently filmed those student groups hanging the bags on residents’ doors in Patterson as part of a series LPB is doing on protected species in Louisiana, she said. One of the segments in the series will be on black bears. LPB also filmed Progressive Waste Solutions workers showing how the cans were emptied, she said.

Grogan had asked Siracusa and Matherne to speak at Tuesday’s city council meeting partly because of confusion from some residents who thought the packets were citations.

The packets were strictly for informational purposes and “in no way a citation,” Siracusa said.

They also included a flier to make sure residents are aware of state laws and local ordinances regarding black bears and not feeding wild animals and keeping garbage cans latched in areas where bear-proof cans are required, she said.

Progressive Waste Solutions has been picking up garbage even when cans are overflowing, she said.

“In other parishes, the garbage companies are allowed to post rules for their customers, and if the customers don’t follow those rules, they have the option not to empty that customer’s garbage,” Siracusa said.

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