Free garbage cans for some as part of pilot program

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    WEST MILFORD — How many hands does it take to open a garbage can? Normally one, but for folks who live in a certain neighborhoods in West Milford, it's going to take two. That's because the 1525 homes are going to recieve free bear-proof garbage cans. Bear complaints in New Jersey are up 70 percent from last year, and it's only June. No one wants to say whether the bear population has exploded, or development of formerly wooded areas have forced the animals out of their habitat, but whatever the reason, contact between humans and bears have become more and more frequent and most humans don't like it. Finding a solution has stirred up controversy. Sportsmen want the bear hunt reinstated. Others want alternative methods. For now, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has opted to start a test program in West Milford to re-educate both species. Bears, shy by nature, venture close to homes and people while looking for food. Once they learn that household garbage is an easily attainable source, they will return regularly. The DEP pilot program includes a $200,000 grant for the purchase of bear-proof garbage cans. Once the town bids out the cans and decides on a vendor, they will use the money to purchase as many of the cans as possible. The town will then distribute the cans (free of charge) to homes in six test neighborhoods, including Papsco/Riverside, West Upper Greenwood Lake, Southeast Pinecliff Lake, Old Milford Estates, Wonder Lake/Forest Hill Park and Farmcrest. Each family will receive two cans. Six other neighborhoods will serve as a control group. The objective is to keep bears away from residential areas by removing the attraction of trash. The DEP will then compare bear reports from the test and the control areas to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Town Councilman Joe Elcavage, who was instrumental in getting the grant, said at a press conference Friday that the town would purchase as many of the cans as possible and once they were distributed to the test communities, leftover cans would be available to residents at cost. At the same press conference, sample cans (pictured) were on display. Because of the screw-top lid, it requires two hands to get the lid off; thus the suer can't be holding a bag of garbage with one hand and lift the lid with the other hand. When the can is empty — and light — the bottom has to be held stationary in order to open it. Elcavage said that although the town would not make compliance mandatory, they would strongly encourage residents to use the cans. John Shoretino of Blue Diamond, the company contracted to collect trash in West Milford, said he hoped his company would be consulted on the choice of cans. Elcavage said that the town might ask for input once they received bids from vendors. When asked whether he was concerned about the effect the screw-top cans will have on the trash collectors, Elcavage said that the company was already dealing with a number of residents who have been using bear-proof cans on their own. DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, who unvieled the pilot program, said the Division of Fish and Wildlife will make a decision regarding a possible hunt this year. Both Pennsylvania and New York regularly control the bear population with a hunt. New Jersey allowed a hunt in 2003, during which 333 bears were killed. The following year the number of bear damage and nuisance complaints fell from 146 to 52. So far this year there have already been close to 400 complaints.