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Hungry bears rise from winter slumber

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2001

They're back and they want something from you -- your garbage.

The abnormally warm weather that has diminished this season's winter also has prompted the hibernating bears of the Kenai Peninsula to crawl out of bed a little early this year.

"So far we have only had one complaint of a bear getting into garbage," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We probably start (having bears come out) around early to mid-April, so we are a couple of weeks early."

The bears that are sauntering about are looking for one thing -- food, said Lewis, who has received reports of bear sightings in Cooper Landing and Sterling already this spring.

"The real problems are garbage, dog food, bird feeders, livestock and livestock feed," he said. "Chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys attract bears just like magnets. Dog food is a no-no, bears just seem to find it irresistible."

The problem has a quick and easy solution: put away the garbage and don't leave animal food out in the open. Lewis suggests keeping garbage to a minimum by taking it to the dump on a regular basis or locking it away in a storage shed.

One incident this year that found a quick solution was at Gwin's Lodge in Cooper Landing. Owner Bob Siter said a brown bear has visited the area regularly recently.

"It was getting into garbage when it came down in the evenings," he said. "We locked (the garbage) up and we haven't, as far as I know, had any problems over the past few nights."

Lewis said this season's mildness has produced less wildlife fatalities and, in turn, less food for bears to feast on.

"This year my prediction is for more bear sightings and bear incidents," Lewis said. "There is not a lot for the bears to be feeding on, and they will probably be traveling along the river and streams looking for fish carcasses from last year. That just happens to be where people build their homes and fish."

One example of a bear finding the easiest access to food is a moose carcass that the lumbering giants have been feasting on downstream of Sportsman's Landing on the highway side near where the powerline crosses the river.

"There is a moose that I think died of natural causes on the Kenai River near the Russian River," Lewis said. "There are signs that bear have been feeding on that. I think they have almost cleaned it up."

Lewis said the easiest way to stop bears from frequenting a neighborhood is to clean up yards and to hang bird feeders out of a bear's reach.

"A bear that associates a house with food will probably start going from house to house looking for some," Lewis said. "One person that doesn't clean up their garbage or doesn't lock up their animal feed can make a bear a nuisance for an entire neighborhood."

A nuisance bear, especially a black bear, becomes a damage-control situation for Fish and Game and forces officials to take action.

"Once the animal becomes more brazen, more bold, it usually becomes a dead bear," Lewis said. "When it comes to black bears, we don't move them, we usually destroy the animal. Brown bears we usually try to move. We have had some success in that, but it doesn't always work."

Lewis warned that refusing to lock up garbage and to clean yards can result in more than just a nuisance bear.

"It is illegal to leave food or garbage out," Lewis said. "No person shall intentionally feed a moose or a bear or intentionally leave human food or garbage out in a manner that attracts these animals. In other words, it is a citable offense."

Lewis said anyone who sees a bear in their neighborhood should take the role of a good neighbor.

"If people have problem bears they should call us," he said. "If people see a bear around their home they should call their neighbors and let them know so they can take appropriate precautions.

"A lot of problems can be solved without agency involvement."



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