Susan Carr, a resident of Valhalla Heights in Kenai, said she has had bears in her neighborhood forever. But it reached a point where she, and others in her neighborhood, saw the bears as a growing danger.
"We'd go outside our front door and there would be big ol' bear tracks," Carr said.
With an abundance of animals and children in the neighborhood, the residents decided to do something.
Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, came to the neighborhood and helped them develop a plan to avoid bear encounters before they happen.
This is just one success story in a year-old Fish and Game program aimed at educating communities about ways to respect and co-exist with wildlife, particularly bears, to prevent dangerous encounters.
The message: "We really encourage people to lock it up and put it away," Lewis said.
He said the department has always preached this message but is now trying to spend more time preventing encounters and less time reacting to them.
Lewis is out in communities across the peninsula telling them they can partner with the department to develop wildlife mitigation plans custom-tailored to their community. Because every neighborhood, town and borough is different, there is no "cookie cutter approach," he said.
With spring around the corner, there already are reports of bears being out and about, he said.
"As a conservationist, I hope to instill in people a sense of ownership of the natural resources of the state," Lewis said at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday. "We're being more proactive in helping to initiate mitigation programs."
This will make life safer for people and wildlife, he said.
The residents of Valhalla Heights received trash cans with locks and started having it collected weekly with the help of a grant, Lewis said. But the attitude is just as important as the equipment, he said.
"We're a very bear conscious neighborhood now," she said.
Since the program started, Ray Carr, Susan's husband, said he has not heard of any nuisance bear encounters in the neighborhood.
"I think it made a difference," he said.
Lewis said the benefits of wildlife mitigation are worth the effort. The biggest benefit is it makes communities safer for humans and the wildlife, he said. When a bear starts eating garbage, the department may have to kill it, he said.
It also fosters a greater sense of conservation and it allows law enforcement agencies to spend less time reacting to nuisance animals, he said.
Wildlife is one of the benefits of living in the state and this will help people enjoy it more, he said.
"Wildlife is synonymous with Alaska," he said.
For more information on wildlife mitigation programs, call the Fish and Game in Soldotna at 262-9368.
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