Brown bears searching for food are scrounging garbage cans, snooping in windows and raiding chicken coops in the central Kenai Peninsula.
“We’ve got a ways to go if we want to minimize bears that are living in this community,” said Jeff Selinger, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Kenai area management biologist.
Fish and Game recently received reports of a sow and three cubs in the East and West Poppy Lane area off Kalifornsky Beach Road, a brown bear eating chickens along Scout Lake Loop in Sterling, and a sow and a few cubs raiding garbage and chickens coops off Mackey Lake Road in Soldotna.
Kenai and Soldotna have also had bear problems.
Kenai police fired rubber bullets at a brown bear lingering along the Kenai Spur Highway near Beaver Loop Road about a week ago, and officers spotted a brown bear cub at the Kenai Golf Course a few days ago, Kenai Police Department Lieutenant Dave Ross said. Residents also spotted a black bear at the corner of Redoubt Avenue and First Street.
In Soldotna, residents have reported a brown bear sow with a few cubs rooting Dumpsters and garbage cans between Soldotna Creek Park and Sunrise Avenue.
No residents have reported aggressive bears, however, Selinger said. One woman said a brown bear ran at her in while she was in her car, but the sow never made contact, and its cubs could have been on the other side of the vehicle, he said.
The bears often scrounge at night, he said.
If residents remove all attractants from their properties, the bears will leave, he said. Garbage left out, freezers unlocked or chicken coops unprotected by electrical fencing are easy food sources for the bears, he said.
Fish and Game and Kenai and Soldotna police encourage residents to mitigate bear attractants. Residents should store garbage cans inside, take them to the dump or leave them outside only when they are to be collected. Freezers stored outside should be locked and chicken coops need to be surrounded by electrical fencing. Bird feeders should be taken down.
Negative reinforcement is the key, Selinger said. If they bears find no food or receive an electrical shock when investigating a chicken coop, they will move on, he said.
But, he said, one person in the community can ruin a city’s efforts to thwart bears. “Once they break in it’s too late, because they learn the behavior,” he said.
Kenai implements a strict measure to reduce bear attractants. The VIP Subdivision, Beaver Loop Road and the communities in the south end of the city by Silver Salmon Drive are classified as a “bear problem area,” City Manager Rick Koch said. In those areas residents must store garbage in bear resistant containers, inside away from bears, wait for garbage removal or take their trash to the dump.
“If you are in a bear problem area and you have garbage all over your yard, you’ll get cited,” Koch said.
It is the city’s third year in a row enacting the measure for Beaver Loop Road and the Silver Salmon Drive area, he said. It is the second year for the VIP Subdivision, he said.
Soldotna officials work with Fish and Game to mitigate bear-human interactions.
The other option — aside from ridding properties of bear attractants — is immediately killing the bears, Selinger said. But he prefers the alternative, he said.
Nine bears this year on the Kenai Peninsula have died in defense of life and property killings, he said. Two cubs will also likely die as a result of a sow shooting, he said.
Selinger said killing the bears may be more convenient for property owners, but it won’t solve the problem. If you leave it out — garbage, unlocked freezers, vulnerable chickens — the bears will come, he said.
“The last thing you want to do,” Soldotna Police Chief Peter Mlynarik said, “is step out on your porch at night and be face to face with a sow.”
Report in-town bear sightings to Fish and Game at 907-262-9368.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.