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Get ready, bears are waking up

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011

Even though the landscape remains white and frozen, the promise of spring is in the air. Warmer temperatures and increased daylight are having profound effects, not always visible to the human eye. Bears, for example begin to stir; their winters' sleep slowly coming to an end. Although bears can be active throughout the year, April is the time of year when most bears emerge from their dens. For this reason, the Kenai Brown Bear Committee has joined with other statewide bear committees and the Governor to announce April as Bear Awareness Month.

Adult males are the first to emerge from their dens, and after losing close to half of their body weight over the winter, they have one thing on their mind: food. A bear's sense of smell is very acute and can detect potential food sources several miles away. So, if you have a smelly barbecue on your deck, unsecured garbage, pet or livestock food, or bird feed in your yard you are advertising free food to the bears. It's like a big, flashing neon sign on the roadside saying "Stop here for free food!"

Every year, we see numerous bears being killed due to "Defense of Life and Property." Most of these calls are made not because people's lives are at risk, but because they have improperly stored attractants causing the bears to become a nuisance. Some bears get food-conditioned due to the easy pickings we humans leave around. Once that happens, a bear associates the presence of a food reward to a particular place or even similar places. This behavior can pose a safety hazard for humans, pets and livestock. By following some basic precautions, you can avoid attracting bears and other wildlife into your yards and neighborhoods, making life safer for you, your family, and your neighbors.

In 2008, a record of 40 human-caused Kenai brown bear mortalities raised concerns among many Kenai Peninsula Borough residents. If you store your garbage outside, the KBBC recommends that you rent or purchase a bear-resistant garbage can. Additionally, the committee has a lot of tips about how to reduce human/bear conflicts while recreating in bear country. You can find detailed information about specific actions you can take at: www.alaskabears.alaska.gov.

We are fortunate here in Alaska to share the landscape with bears. It is always a thrilling experience to see a bear in its natural environment and these moments add to our overall quality of life here in the north. It is our responsibility to do what we can to keep wildlife from being attracted to our yards, neighborhoods and camps.

So, grab a checklist and do a survey of your yard. Clean up any attractants and join us in our efforts to keep our bears wild. Tell your family, friends and neighbors that April is Bear Awareness Month and encourage them to be prepared for the waking bruins. The more of us who are aware means fewer human/bear conflicts will occur. That will translate into fewer bears becoming a DLP statistic and safer Alaskan communities.

Valerie Connor, Alaska Center for the Environment, on behalf of the Kenai Brown Bear Committee.



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