Bear aware: Fish and Game warns residents to remove trash

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In the Lower 48, April showers bring May flowers, but in Alaska, melting snow brings bears searching for food to and fro.

"It should be any time now," 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. 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, all combine and cause these creatures to stir after several months' slumber.

"We've had reports of bear tracks on the ski trails at the (Kenai National Wildlife) Refuge, and a big, male was taken by a hunter up by Cooper Lake last week, but there hasn't been much else in the way of sightings yet," Selinger said.

Still, it won't be long until more bears are out and about, and one of the first things these hungry bruins will do is attempt to start putting on fat for next year's hibernation. As such, Selinger said people should take precautions to minimize any attractants around the house and yard.

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

There are many ways to minimize attractants. These include having garbage in bear-resistant containers and making frequent trips to the dump to haul it off. Chest freezers full of fish, moose and other food items should be secured with ratchet straps or locking latches, he said.

Native birds should be provided only with a bird bath, not seed or suet in summer, and any winter leftovers should be thoroughly cleaned. Residents should also make sure beehives and livestock -- such as pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits -- are protected with three to five strands of electric fencing, and ensure that livestock and pet feed is indoors or stored in a secure place, he said.

"This is the time of year when people should also be particularly cognizant of their surroundings. With bears just coming out, it would be easy to surprise one, but people should also watch for moose, since they are at their most stressed time of year. People should also watch for some that may have died," Selinger said.

Bears 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, and it would be easy for a jogger or dog walker to come up on a bear protecting its meal just off the road or trail.

"I know people like to jog with iPods to get through exercise, but I would recommend not doing that, especially near wooded or remote areas. People should also jog in groups, since it is safer than jogging individually, and don't jog where you smell rotting meat or see ravens or eagles circling," Selinger said.

"People can also carry bear spray, but if they do, like any firearm, they should know how to use it properly," he added.

Selinger said the relationship between hunters and landowners with nuisance bears will also be fostered again this year. The goal of this is to allow hunters to harvest bears that would have a high likelihood of being killed as a DLP -- defense of life and property -- shooting, which is a more responsible use of resources.

This doesn't mean that anyone who has a bear on their property can call and have it dispatched. According to Selinger certain criteria must be met, just like last year.

"The bear must be a legal animal to hunt, it has to be in an area legal to hunt and where it is safe to discharge a firearm, and the landowner has to have taken reasonable efforts to minimize bear attractants in the area," he said.

For more information on minimizing bear attractants, or to report nuisance bear activity, contact Fish and Game at 262-9368.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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