It's that time of year to be bear aware

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's never too early to start thinking about bear interactions when you live in Alaska.

Although the sightings are few right now, you can bet they will increase with the warmer weather and melting snow.

This is the time of year when we remind you to be aware that bears are out there -- and they're looking for food.

Easy pickings are at the top of their list, and birdseed, pet food and trash left out in the open will turn a bruin into a problem overnight.

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 bears.

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

There are many ways to reduce what draws the bears in, including having garbage in bear-resistant containers and making regular trips to the dump to get rid of it. Use ratchet straps or locking latches to keep your chest freezers full of food secure.

This is great advice for keeping bears off your property, 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.

Bears sometimes feed by scavenging the carcasses of moose and other animals, and it would be easy for anyone to come up on a bear protecting its meal.

"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," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "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."

Good advice.

Another piece of good advice is to call Fish and Game if you want more information on protecting yourself and your property or to report a nuisance bear. The number is 262-9368.

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