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Composting in bear country

Adapted from Steamboat Today

Landfills are not designed to breakdown organic waste. When organic material like food waste goes in the landfill, it breaks down anaerobically, and the result is methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the short term.

So, naturally, composting sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Instead of taking up space in the landfill and producing methane gas, organic material can be turned into nutrient-rich soil that otherwise costs big bucks at the store.

But, there is one problem; your leftovers may attract wildlife. The kind of wildlife that weighs 500+ pounds and has sharp claws, powerful teeth and determination to get food. Yes, bears.

There are several strategies to deter bears from considering your compost pile an all-you-can-eat buffet:

  1. Do NOT put any meat, fish, dairy or grease in your compost bin.
  2. During times of high bear activity (approximately April – November), do not put sweet smelling things like fruits and veggies in your compost bin.
  3. Put equal proportions of brown materials (i.e. leaves) to green materials (i.e. kitchen scraps) in your bin. Brown material should be added in a thick layer with each addition of green.
  4. Bears are attracted to the smell of rotting food. A properly maintained compost bin should not produce any smells that attract bears.
  5. Watch your bin for visits by furry friends because if raccoons, foxes, skunks or dogs are visiting your bin, a bear might, too.
  6. No compost bin is bear proof, but if a bin is well maintained then it will not produce smells that attract bears. Compost correctly or compost indoors.

Outdoor composting is not the only method of turning organic material into a soil amendment. Indoor vermicomposting and bokashi composting are the most bear-proof methods. Vermicomposting utilizes red worms to eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body. Bokashi is an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste. For information about vermicomposting and bokashi composting, visit www.yvsc.org/compost.  

If you have questions about composting in bear country, contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 970-870-2197.

Written by Cameron Hawkins, Waste Diversion Director, YVSC