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Amid Attacks, Wyo. Landfill Draws Grizzlies

In this May 4, 2009 file photo, a grizzly bear walks across a road near Mammoth, Wyo., in Yellowstone Park.
AP Photo/The Billings Gazette
From a grizzly bear's perspective, the small landfill in this tiny northwest Wyoming community might smell like a buffet dinner, with dead livestock and meat processing waste dumped in a pit not far from the other trash.

Environmentalist Hilary Eisen with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition calls the situation in Clark "very worrisome," with only a short wire fence standing between the landfill and any hungry grizzlies drawn by the scent.

"Bears coming into places where humans are, such as garbage dumps or other places, and recognizing that as a food source, is one of the first steps toward creating a dangerous bear," Eisen said.

Some point out that landfills with designated pits for dead animals aren't uncommon and there's nothing specifically about Clark's that would make it particularly risky. Others aren't so sure.

Grizzlies have killed two people within 50 miles of Clark since June. A grizzly seriously injured a man last summer a few miles from the landfill.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has trapped two grizzlies this year at the landfill near the Montana state line. The department moved them about 100 miles away to remote areas south of Yellowstone National Park.

Meanwhile, the landfill has continued to take waste from a meat processor in Belfry, Mont., about 15 miles up the road. On a recent day, various dead animal parts and several plastic trash bags full of entrails sat in an open pit at the landfill. Blood pooled onto the dirt.

One grizzly a year has stopped through the Clark landfill in recent years, said Sandie Morris, manager of the Park County landfill office.

"It's a grizzly bear buffet out there," Morris said. "But it's the same thing for the coyotes, the foxes and the raccoons."

Dumped that morning, the meat processing waste was buried by day's end, she said, consistent with the landfill's policy for the waste dumped each Tuesday.

Park County officials haven't installed an electric fence or some other way to keep grizzlies out because the state Department of Environmental Quality is deliberating whether to close several Wyoming landfills including the one in Clark, she said.

"Frankly neither Park County nor the Game and Fish wants to invest a large amount of taxpayer money into an electric fence situation, only to have the state close down the landfill a year or two later," she said.

She called the landfill safe, saying the attendant carries bear spray and does a sweep for any grizzlies before opening the gate each morning.

"It comes down to public education," Morris said Thursday. "You chose to live in grizzly bear habitat, you need to exercise grizzly bear precaution."

Clark resident Jerry Ruth was severely mauled by a grizzly a few miles from the landfill last year. He said he carries a gun wherever he thinks he might encounter a grizzly — that includes trips to the landfill.

"As long as they continue to use a section of it for dead animals or animal parts, they're going to continue to go there," Ruth said of grizzlies.

A retired police officer, Ruth fatally shot the grizzly that attacked him. Two people attacked by grizzlies in the region this year were less fortunate.

On June 17, a 430-pound male grizzly that researchers had sedated woke up and killed a man hiking six miles outside Yellowstone's east gate. On July 28, a 216-pound female grizzly killed a man and seriously injured two others at a campground near Cooke City, Mont., near the park's northeast entrance.

The bear that attacked Ruth wasn't lured to the Clark area by the landfill, said Mark Bruscino, a bear specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

He said he doesn't think Park County needs to change landfill operations — at least not before finding out the fate of the Clark landfill.

"All landfills function to store community waste, and community waste in a rural landfill includes dead animals," Bruscino said. "Every landfill that I know of has a dead animal pit. So it's not like something unusual is happening there."

Bruscino and his counterparts in Idaho and Montana also said they knew of no similar, recent problem with bears at landfills or trash transfer stations in the Yellowstone region.

On May 19, Game and Fish captured a young female grizzly at the Clark landfill and moved it south of Yellowstone. On June 26, the agency captured an adult female grizzly at the landfill and moved it northwest of Grand Teton National Park.

Bruscino said Game and Fish doesn't want grizzlies feeding at the landfill and is working with Park County on long-term solutions.