Stash the trash · Simple steps can protect bears, humans

Bears, raccoons and other wildlife in search of an easy meal are increasingly visiting residential areas in the Tahoe-Truckee region. It may not always be obvious, but a bag of garbage, bowl of pet food or plate of leftovers left outside your home or vacation site can harm wildlife.

Bear at Taylor Creek  | Rick Berg

Of all the wildlife and human interactions, encounters with bears are becoming the most common. The Tahoe Basin and surrounding foothills are prime black bear habitat. Forty percent of the California black bear population inhabits the Sierra Nevada. A typical wild bear diet consists of berries, grasses, plants, nuts, roots, honey, insects and small mammals. In urban areas adjacent to undeveloped wildlands, bears are optimistic scavengers and are attracted to easy food sources such as improperly stored human food, pet food, birdseed and garbage. Once a bear has discovered an easy source of food, they will remember that location and return on a regular basis.

Bears that grow accustomed to people can become complacent and lose their fear of humans. This is referred to as human habituation, and it often forces wildlife officials to kill the bear because of the threat it poses to humans. For residents and visitors who don’t take steps to discourage bears, these interactions can cause expensive property damage, result in fines from local jurisdictions, and pose dangers to visitors and neighbors.

“Residents and visitors living in bear country have a responsibility to the wildlife whose habitat we share, and also to human neighbors. Improper storage of food or garbage is attributed to 95 percent of all human-bear conflicts,” said Madonna Dunbar, resource conservationist with the Incline Village General Improvement District. “By removing the attractants, we can reduce risk to both people and wildlife. Preventing access to garbage and food is the easiest way to reduce the risk of human-bear interactions.”


Install a bear box
The most secure way to store garbage at your home is by installing a bear box; a large metal enclosure to house trash cans. While the boxes cost an average of $1,000, they offer the highest level of security from bears. To help homeowners, some local jurisdictions are now offering programs to subsidize the cost of purchasing bear boxes.

Placer County offers no-interest loans for homeowners in Placer County east of Colfax, including Lake Tahoe. Eligible homeowners can apply for a 5-year, interest-free loan that homeowners repay through a $22 per month surcharge on existing quarterly garbage bills.

Learn more about this program at

The Incline Village General Improvement District offers a rebate for homeowners who have an approved bear box installed after July 1, 2015.

The rebate is valued at $150 and is available for single-family and multi-family homes (without dumpster trash service). To learn more about this program, visit

No matter where you live in Lake Tahoe, it is important to do your part to protect native wildlife by properly storing your garbage, food and other attractants.

By Devin Middlebrook | Tahoe Regional Planning Agency



Devin Middlebrook is an environmental education specialist at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. This article orginially appeared in “Tahoe in Depth” published by TRPA. “Tahoe In Depth” may be downloaded at




Local bear ordinances

Know the rules, avoid penalties

Placer County | Chapter 8.16 requires bear-resistant, garbage-can enclosures on new residential construction or additions of more than 500 square feet of living space, for portions of Placer County above 5,000 feet elevation. Bear-resistant, garbage-can enclosures may also be required if the garbage collection or storage site has been inspected and determined to be a bear access problem.

Douglas County | Under Title 6.32, “A responsible party must not allow a bear to gain access to garbage.” Violations of this chapter will be punished by the following progression of sanctions:

For the first incident, a verbal or written warning will be issued to the responsible party.

For a second incident within two years from the first incident, the responsible party will be required to purchase or construct a bear-proof collection bin, container or structure and install within 90 days of the incident. A responsible party that fails to purchase or construct a bear-proof collection bin, container or structure within 90 days will be cited and, if convicted, punished for an infraction.

Incline Village | All solid waste must be kept free from pests and vermin, including but not limited to dogs, bears, coyotes and raccoons, by means of storage location, times of placement, and removal from curb, or use of approved wildlife-resistant containers or a bear shed box

South Lake Tahoe | Under City Code 4.150.150, residents must “take adequate precautions to prevent ready access to the waste by animals. … Further, at the direction of the city manager, or the city manager’s designee, the following corrective enforcement actions are available (including) mandating bear-proof refuse containers for repeat violators of single-family residences and multifamily residential properties not using safety-approved dumpsters.”

El Dorado County | Ordinance 4600 requires the installation of bear-resistant, garbage-can enclosures with construction of all new residential units. Bear-resistant, garbage-can enclosures may also be required if the garbage collection or storage site has been inspected and determined to be a bear-access problem.