State rejects bear sanctuary application

Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Juneau nonprofit group is reworking plans for a bear sanctuary after the state ruled against its proposal to rehabilitate problem bears.

The Department of Fish and Game told BEARS Inc. in November that it has a long-standing policy against releasing wild animals after they are in captivity.

BEARS stands for Bear Education and Rehabilitation Sanctuary. The group wanted to condition wayward bears at a center in Juneau.

Bears accustomed to feeding on garbage could be taught to avoid human food if placed in an environment with natural foods and occasionally given access to garbage cans laced with unpleasant anti-worm medicine, BEARS board members said.

However, game officials are concerned about the introduction of diseases and the state's liability if such bears are released, according to a letter from Matt Robus, deputy director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Division Director Wayne Regelin said Fish and Game has to be responsible for human safety.

''It's one thing if a species is extremely rare and you're trying to rehabilitate it,'' he said. ''In this case, there's certainly no shortage of black bears in this area or the rest of the state.''

Organizers still want to open an education center and exhibit bears, said Chris Grant, BEARS executive director.

''It doesn't stop us from trying to keep the orphans from getting killed. We still may be able to provide a home for them,'' he said. ''At least if we keep them in town and in view, people will realize there are still things they can do to help prevent (bears from being killed).''

Although the city has strengthened garbage-storage laws over the past two summers, authorities each year kill a handful of Juneau bears that have run-ins with residents. In summer 2001, police shot a sow in a Mendenhall Valley neighborhood. Her cub, which had climbed a nearby tree, was euthanized.

''We're still planning to focus on garbage and what people can do to avoid habituating bears,'' Grant said.

The project would be funded by visitors and grants. The first phase of the project, including a 3,000-square-foot education center, could cost about $2 million, Grant said.

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