Homeowners could face criminal charges for bears raiding trash cans

The Snoqualmie City Council passed an ordinance that would charge homeowners with a misdemeanor if they repeatedly allow their trash cans to be raided by black bears.

"It just doesn't seem right to punish us for nature," Snoqualmie resident Travis Doerge said.

First, the homeowner would get a warning and then face a $125 ticket before being cited with a misdemeanor.

"I don't believe it's heavy-handed in the fact that we're not going to be out patrolling for garbage violations, we have much more important things to do but if someone complains we'll respond," police chief Steve McCulley told KIRO 7. "We just want to mitigate the bear interactions with the humans," said McCulley.

McCulley estimates there have been nearly 300 complaints from people in the past 4 years of bears getting into trash cans.

"During the summertime they're here all the time almost every night," resident Shandi Hill said.

She had to get a locking mechanism on her trash can to keep the bears away.

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"They would get into the trash and there would be trash everywhere and it would get up into the fence line," said Hill.

McCulley said charging fines and citing criminal charges have worked for other cities across the country with bear problems like in Juneau, Alaska.

He hopes raising awareness of the issue will get people to secure their trash cans instead of having to fine or charge people.

"I believe that we have neighbors that will come out and through neighborhood peer pressure they'll take care of it," McCulley said.

In addition to the safety risk to homeowners from the bears, McCulley says at least two officers have to respond when a bear is sighted.

One officer is ready with a beanbag gun, and another officer is ready with a rifle in case the situation escalates.

McCulley says responding to all of the calls takes away from more important crimes.