Preparing for spring -- and bear encounters


Posted: Friday, March 21, 2008

The longer days and slowly warming temperatures mean activities on the Kenai Peninsula are heating up.

As the snow melts, moose are able to find longtime hidden browse, eagles are flocking to the Kenai City Dock, and bears are beginning to make their way out of their dens.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Technician Larry Lewis said bears generally begin emerging as early as March. And when they wake up, they're hungry and looking for food.

Interactions between humans and bears when food is involved rarely turn out to be anything but tragic. Every summer on the peninsula, someone is invariably injured or killed in a bear attack.

As part of Alaska's back yard, the peninsula annually offers hundreds of thousands of people the unique opportunity to experience nature in its most raw form. Moose, eagles and bears are neighbors with which we're lucky enough to share our home.

However, living in a land filled with natural wonders also means we sometimes become a bit too complacent about our surroundings. Storing items outside in winter is one thing, but come spring, it's a whole different ball game one that includes a team called the bears.

Easy pickings are just what they're looking for, and birdseed, pet food and trash top their list.

The first thing people can do to reduce conflicts between man and bear is to make sure all potential food sources are secure and inaccessible to the bruins.

Providing cheap meals for bears makes them frequent visitors, and the more time they spend associating humans with food, the worse the results usually are for man and beast.

But the chance of meeting a bear doesn't only happen at home. As the weather turns, so does our desire to get out for walks all over the peninsula, and you never know what might be around the next corner.

When surprised, bears like all animals must make an instant decision on whether to run or fight. One way people can prevent bear attacks is to not scare them.

Make every effort to watch the trail ahead and make a bit of noise from time to time. Bears don't normally want to be anywhere near people, and by letting them know you're nearby, they'll usually have enough time to get out of your way.

Not all brushes with bears are avoidable, however. Sometimes people simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For these times pepper spray can be a valuable tool. Many people like to carry guns into the wild, but it often isn't nearly as practical as a dose of spray when dealing with an angry bear. A bullet may not stop a bear, while pepper spray seems to be highly effective in turning them away.

Remembering bear basics is something everyone should do. Bears are a wonderful neighbor, and we're lucky to live in a place that's home to a thriving population. But they need to be left alone.

As longer days and warmer temps beckon us outside, remember it's their world and we are the ones who need to be responsible.

Secure your garbage, don't leave pet food out and never leave food out while camping. Be aware when you go for a hike, and be ready for anything.

"Generally it's the animal that pays the price for something that didn't have to happen in the first place," Lewis said.

"I don't think anybody can deny we would have less of an Alaska if we didn't have brown bears here, so it's our human responsibility to live responsibly with these animals."

We couldn't agree more. Be careful out there.

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