The Tallahassee Museum's bear guests spent part of the day on Friday testing potential trash cans for Tallahassee. They were not able to get to the tasty snacks inside. / Glenn Beil/Democrat
No matter how hard they tried, two black bears at the Tallahassee Museum could not get the lid off a jelly-smeared trash can during a demonstration Friday.
As Leon County and the city of Tallahassee implement changes in recycling and trash services, with them comes the distribution of bear-resistant trash cans in time for the native mammals' push to bulk up for the winter.
Close to 200 of the cans are expected to be distributed this month by Leon County solid waste officials and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in areas of Leon County deemed the most susceptible to encroachment from bears.
FWC bear biologist Sarah Barrett said the bears may be becoming more common in populated areas as urban sprawl pushes into the forest that bears call home.
"We're seeing a lot of bears from Apalachicola National Forest using Tallahassee as a transit over to Jefferson County," Barrett said.
Close to 700 bears are reported to live in the Apalachicola Forest, considered one of the hot spots of habitat for bears.
She said that, often, the bears humans encounter are juveniles trying to find their own home range.
"They do skirt through the south end of town frequently," Barrett said, "but they don't tend to linger very long."
The first 200 cans to be distributed are part of a pilot project to test their effectiveness. They will be paid for from an $11,000 grant program with FWC, said Leon County Director of Resource Stewardship Maggie Theriot.
"Essentially it's based on bear sighting data that has determined an ideal neighborhood," Theriot said.
Residents outside the initial project areas can request a specialized can by paying an additional $8 on their monthly waste disposal bill and leasing it from Waste Pro, which will now provide waste services. There is a $30 delivery fee, which can be waived if residents pick up their own can.
Barrett said that the style of can being distributed is designed to thwart bears with features such as a locking lid and ball bearings built into the trigger mechanisms that keep it closed even if the can is knocked on its side.
Tallahassee resident Jay McCallie said he has noticed more bears near his home off State Road 20.
"They are encroaching in town more," McCallie said. "Now you see them all the time. They are definitely out there."
McCallie came to the demonstration at Tallahassee Museum, but even after about an hour of watching a male bear unsuccessfully try to get into a can, he questioned whether the cans would be effective.
"They don't make a bear-proof trash can," he said.
But Theriot said placing the cans throughout a neighborhood will deter bears from the "goody bag" that is garbage day.
"If you have one, but your neighbors don't, you didn't deter anything," Theriot said. "The specialized equipment acts as an extra deterrent and makes it harder for them to get their next meal at the end of your driveway."
Tallahassee Democrat, Karl Etters - staff writer