RENO (AP) - Another Lake Tahoe-area community is cracking down on people who allow easy access to garbage for bears, dogs, raccoons and other animals.
The town of Truckee, Calif., has adopted new rules designed to prevent careless handling of trash and the critters that often come with it.
Similar to regulations at California's nearby Tahoe Donner subdivision and Lake Tahoe's Incline Village, Truckee's trash ordinance comes with teeth: repeat violators face fines of up to $1,000.
The rules approved by the Truckee Town Council took effect a week ago. Some say the move to address trash-eating bears was long overdue.
"It's just not something you want to encourage," Truckee Mayor Carolyn Wallace Dee told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
"We don't want to invite them into neighborhoods by having trash so readily available. It's an issue for us," she said.
Easy access to trash has long been identified as a central issue when it comes to mounting problems between people and bears in the Reno-Tahoe area.
Bears that become accustomed to eating garbage teach that behavior to cubs. They are more likely to break into homes or vehicles, dangerous behavior that often ends with them killed as a threat to public safety. They grow bigger from a calorie-rich diet and often stop hibernating during winter months because food is so readily available, experts said.
Dan Olsen, manager of animal services and code compliance in Truckee, said they decided to update trash regulations after receiving up to 50 complaints of animals getting into garbage since last spring, about half of them black bears. He said existing rules simply weren't addressing the problem.
"Without deterring the bears from getting into garbage, essentially leaving feeders out for them, they are certainly not going to go away," Olsen said.
Now, the first verified complaint of animals getting into trash in Truckee earns a warning letter and the potential requirement to replace a trash container if badly damaged. A second complaint within a year can come with a $235 fine. A third can result in a $1,000 fine and an order to install an animal-resistant garbage container, the last part constituting the "end regulation."
If an animal-resistant garbage container is installed within a month, the $1,000 fine can be waived, Olsen said. The enclosures often cost about that much and would be paid for by the violator.
Most local jurisdictions in the Tahoe area have some kind of trash regulation in place, but they don't come with the level of potential fines that Tahoe-Donner, Incline Village - and now, Truckee - have established.
In Nevada, Washoe County health officials passed new rules designed to help address the problem in bear-prone areas such as Verdi and Washoe Valley in late 2010, but they contain no provision to fine violators.
The ability to fine at sufficient amounts is key to any successful program, according to Ann Bryant, founder of the Bear League, a nonprofit group established 14 years ago with the mission of minimizing conflict between bears and people. She said Truckee's action was "way overdue."
"Whenever you have a fine system, people pay attention," she said.
The Incline Village General Improvement District adopted aggressive trash management regulations during a record year for bear problems in 2007. Like Truckee's new rules, they include fines of up to $1,000 for repeat violators.
Madonna Dunbar, the district's resource conservationist, said it has resulted in a "real significant drop" in problems there.
"This problem is not going to go away until people start handling their trash properly," she said.