VIEWPOINT: An unbearable booboo

by Paul Faulstich

Bears of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park have discovered a gigantic picnic basket: the dumpster at the Padua Hills Theatre. Bears frequent this smorgasbord, and are becoming habituated on the scraps. Throughout October, a mom and two cubs have been visiting the dumpster daily. I recently found the tiny cubs trapped inside the recycle bin while their agitated mom paced atop the container. I inserted a ladder into the bin to let the cubs climb out.

Black Bears have a voracious appetite, are incredibly curious, and have an amazing sense of smell. They weigh as much as 350 pounds and eat an average of 30,000 calories a day. This combination tempts them to seek our high-calorie food. And they have found it in abundance in the unsecured bins of the theatre, where catered events create a copious amount of tempting bear bait. This seemingly harmless feeding of wild animals is dangerous. Sometimes bears that routinely get our food become aggressive and have to be killed as a result. Storing waste properly until it is collected can prevent a bear’s unnecessary death.

Since bears’ natural diet consists of berries, insects and carrion, the calorie-rich cuisine of humans is very tempting. Unfortunately, bears frequent our foothill neighborhoods to raid unsecured garbage cans. But their bonanza has been the dumpsters of the Padua Hills Theatre.

Despite multiple reprimands from the city, theatre management,  Chantrelle’s Catering, continues to misuse their two bins and leave them unsecured. The city’s sanitation supervisor also has noted that the recycling bin contains not just recycling but a vast amount of trash, which is contributing to the problem. When I peeked into the recycle dumpster after freeing the bear cubs, I saw that it was heavily contaminated with food scraps, soiled kitchen debris, plus an entire pineapple: in the recycle bin!

Claremont’s Human Services department, which oversees the property’s lease, has been in contact with the Padua Theatre to impress upon them the need to lock the bins. The trash bin supplied by the city has a locking mechanism, but the theatre neglects to utilize it. The recycle bin currently does not have a locking system, but needs one since the kitchen staff discards bottles that break, along with food-scented recyclables and actual food that does not belong there.

Last summer, Claremont police were called to the theatre when a large bear cut its paw on broken glass in the recycle bin and was wandering the neighborhood. An injured bear is an aggressive bear. While the theatre has reported concerns about the bears, they do not comply with the best way to deter them, which is to lock the bin. The city has put theatre staff in connection with the California Department of Fish andWildlife so that they will accept and comply with common practices of bear avoidance.

Despite pleas from the city (and myself), the theatre routinely leaves both their trash and recycling dumpsters open. When I shared my concern with the theatre leaseholder, he became verbally violent and physically threatening, prompting me to file a police report. Besides the threats to our wildlife, this is no way to maintain good relationships within our community.

As our community engages in conversations around the master plan for the Wilderness Park, we should appreciate the need to work together to manage not just the park, but adjacent areas as well. For its part, the city is investigating bear-resistant automated trashcans for the northern residential areas to address concerns related to bears visiting on trash pick-up days. 

In our national parks, food storage regulations and disposal have the force and effect of federal law. For individuals, failure to comply can result in a fine of up to $5,000. It is a serious infraction that carries substantial consequence. Similar penalties should be enacted within Claremont.

The open dumpsters create another problem: rats, which feed on the abundant food scraps scattered by bears. To cope with this problem, the theatre has installed numerous bait stations, which the bears easily rip into to consume the poisonous contents. My wife and I even found a bait station that a bear had dragged into the bottom of Palmer Canyon, where it was deposited in the Palmer Canyon creek bed. Indeed, the canyon below the theatre is strewn with rubbish scavenged from the dumpsters. In this sensitive riparian area, part of the “waters of the state,” habitat regulations are rigorous for a reason. Even minor infractions can result in fines from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Poison baits injure and kill huge numbers of wild animals and pets, and the California Department of Pesticide Control banned the sale of the most deadly rodenticides from the consumer market in July. While these products are no longer available in stores like Walmart and Home Depot, they remain available for use in commercial applications.

Even if animals like bears don’t consume the bait directly, rodents do and then slowly die of internal hemorrhaging, taking days to perish after eating the poison. During this time, the rodents continue to eat bait, raising their toxin levels to doses that are lethal even for larger animals that hunt them, such as owls, foxes and bobcats. Ironically, among the animals that rodenticides are most likely to kill are the ones that naturally keep rat populations down by preying on them.

The best way to keep the rat problem down is to not attract them in the first place but, after that, the best rodenticides are the ones designed by nature: birds of prey, foxes, coyotes and numerous species of snakes. It’s illogical to attempt to protect the Wilderness Hills Park while poisoning the animals that keep the ecosystem healthy. As a professor of environmental analysis researching ecological restoration within the Wilderness Park, it is my conviction that because of the adverse impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides, these toxins should be banned throughout Claremont.

One of Claremont’s greatest assets is our proximity to nature, and it’s amazing that abundant wildlife roams our hills. We’re lucky to live near wild open spaces large enough to sustain Black Bear and other astonishing animals. The Black Bear is the largest animal inhabiting the Wilderness Hills Park, and they were introduced into the San Gabriel Mountains in 1932 by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 400 to 500 bears inhabiting the San Gabriel Mountains are all descendants of 11 individual bears deported from Yosemite National Park for being troublemakers. While non-native to our area, the Black Bear has come to inhabit the niche that was once filled by the Grizzly Bear, which was fully exterminated in California by the 1920s.

There is remarkable beauty within the Claremont Wilderness Hills Park. But from an ecological perspective, it’s a threatened ecosystem and calls for our stewardship. We have the opportunity to help nature heal by restoring this environment. We can manage the Wilderness Park as a refuge offering diverse and lightly impacted habitat for our fellow creatures, and for ourselves. But to successfully do so, we must be uncommonly mindful, and we must work together as a community.

Collectively, we have responsibility for the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, and with this comes the duty of stewardship. Let us embrace the richness and vulnerability of this environment, existing precariously at the urban-wildlands interface, and steward it with care.


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