Tom Ross: Bear overcomes locked Dumpster at townhomes |

Tom Ross: Bear overcomes locked Dumpster at townhomes

Tom Ross

— Have you ever gazed out your dining room window at the bear in your backyard and wondered, "Just how strong is that critter? If it wanted to, could that bruiser of a bruin pick me up and stuff me in my own bear-proof trash receptacle?"

I think that I can say with confidence this morning that the answer is, unequivocally, "Yes."

Let me be clear, I am not about to tell you that I have been bear-hugged and tossed in the garbage. But I am going to share some research performed in 2006 at Montana State University regarding the strength of bears relative to Dumpsters. But we'll talk more about that later.

More important at this moment is how, for two straight nights, a large bear has defeated the locking lids on the big green Dumpster in our townhome neighborhood. The animal apparently has accomplished this feat using nothing but its bear paws.

Our Dumpster has two stiff, side-by-side vinyl lids. At the front edge of each lid, a stout steel bar is attached. On the front of the Dumpster, another steel bar is attached by hinges that allow it to be rotated over the bars on the Dumpster lids. A braided steel cable affixed with a steel clip not unlike a rock climber's carabiner is attached to the left corner of the Dumpster. The clip is intended to be affixed to a loop in the dumpster bar, keeping it in place.

With the bar hooked in place, there should be no way the bear can open the Dumpster lids. And I went out in the dark last night to make certain it was properly secured before I went to bed.

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But this bear is determined. It appears that he sits on one of the Dumpster lids, denting it, and pulls upward on the other lid with such force that he is able to accomplish the impossible and jerk the steel bar on the lid past the locking bar.

I should say that I have not actually watched the bear do this. His arrival at the little lunch cart in our parking lot always is announced by the loud sound of him breaking in at 1:30 a.m. or sometimes 4:30 a.m. By the time I can grab my ultra-bright backpacker's headlamp from the nightstand and stumble to the deck, he already has accomplished the deed.

The bear doesn't like the beam of the headlamp, fortunately, and typically ambles away.

So how strong is the bear? The best research I could find has to do with larger grizzly bears and not the black bear that visits us. Still, the research performed at Montana State by engineering graduate students Jay Smith and James Schmitt under the supervision of professor Doug Cairns is enlightening.

They used a device they built to measure how much force an object gets hit with. When the Montana State team tested grizzly bears at the Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone against a 700-pound Dumpster, their eyes were opened.

"It was like a beach ball to them," Cairns was quoted as saying in a news release from the university. "They could roll it over and over. It took a minimum of two people a concerted effort to tip it."

Cairns concluded that grizzlies in strength are equal to 2 1/2 to 5 humans.

Of course, the bear in my neighborhood isn't a grizzly. At least I pray it isn't. But even if black bears aren't as strong as their grizzly cousins, I'm convinced of their power.

But I've found special motivation to defeat our bear. Before he departed the neighborhood Wednesday night, he left his calling card in the form of a big dump in the driveway.

Call me crazy, but I took it personally. And I'm going to find a way to keep Mr. Bear out of our Dumpster.

If you have any suggestions, don't hesitate to let me know.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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