Time again to be bear aware

As hibernation ends, spring feeding begins

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2007

With each passing day another winter season gets farther away, and it won’t be long until fresh bear tracks are a common sight in slushy, melting snow.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna has already received a few calls relating to bruin activity.

“We had a call of a brown bear milling around someone’s porch off of Atkins Road in Sterling,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wake-up can be variable from year to year, but generally late March to early April is when bears emerge from their winter dens, according to Selinger. Multiple factors cause these creatures to stir and wake after several months of slumber.

“It’s a combination of more daylight, heat from warmer weather, their dens getting wet from melting snow and the bears having burned up their fat and energy reserves put on last year,” he said.

Once awake, the first thing the bears do is attempt to start putting on fat for next year’s hibernation, Selinger said. They may feed naturally by scavenging the carcasses of unlucky moose that didn’t have enough fat reserves of their own to make it through a cold winter with deep snow. Bears also turn to browsing on the first shoots of vegetation on sunny, south-facing slopes of hills and mountains or in avalanche chutes where wide swaths may be left snow free.

“They’re basically looking for any food they can get their mouths on when they first pop out, which is why it is really important to minimize any attractants around the house and yard,” Selinger said.

Keeping homes attractant-free should be a year-round activity for residents, he said, but it is critical at this time of year when bear activity increases exponentially.

“Garbage, feeds for dogs and livestock, bird seed -- especially suet -- should all be cleaned up and put away because bears are looking for whatever they can find,” he said.

Freezers full of fish should be locked or secured, bones from moose and caribou harvested late last season should be picked up, and Selinger recommended putting up three to five strands of electric fencing around pens or enclosures with rabbits, chickens, goats and other livestock.

As in past years, Fish and Game is taking a proactive approach to reducing negative interactions between humans and bears through the Wildlife Conservation Community Program in the city of Kenai. This program involves converting the waste receptacles used by residents to bear-resistant ones, retrofitting Dumpsters with bear-proof lids, organizing and conducting an outreach program oriented at educating people about ways to respect and coexist with bears and other wildlife, and continuing habitat protection.

Bear-resistant garbage cans are available from Alaska Waste or Industrial Refuse, Selinger said.

In addition, a door-to-door trek through the VIP subdivision of Kenai informing residents about the Wildlife Conservation Community Program was led Saturday by Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with Fish and Game, along with members of the local chapter of Safari Club and representatives from Alaska Waste.

“It’s an area within city limits that has had problems in the past, so we wanted to get out early and get people thinking about minimizing negative interactions with bears in their neighborhoods. It went really well,” Lewis said.

Lewis said several other communities have expressed an interest in the program based on Kenai’s success with it. He said Homer and Seward are working toward starting their own programs, Anchorage is thinking about launching a pilot program and even several states in the Lower 48 have called inquiring about it.

“We’re hoping to keep building on the success, because there really is no down side to this program,” he said.

For more information about Wildlife Conservation Community Program, bear safety or to report bear-related activity, contact Fish and Game at 262-9368.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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