Panel: Garbage handling, education key to coexisting with bears

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- The draft Kenai Peninsula Brown Bear Conservation Strategy has been released for public review and education is a key ingredient.

Public awareness about how to coexist with bears is essential to any conservation plan, said John Schoen, a senior Alaska scientist with the National Audubon Society and a member of the panel that wrote the draft.

''We need to work with everyone throughout the peninsula, long-term residents as well as visitors, about issues like garbage -- how to keep a clean residence or a clean camp,'' Schoen told the Peninsula Clarion. ''Conditioning bears to garbage is a huge issue.''

Dennis Smith, a dispatcher for Peninsula Sanitation, agreed.

If people disposed of their garbage properly, then most of the peninsula's brown bear problems would disappear, he said.

''In Ninilchik, we've seen whole totes of halibut carcasses on the ground,'' Smith said. ''In Nikiski, we've seen salmon carcasses.''

Wildlife biologists believe the Kenai Peninsula's brown bear population is stable or increasing, but they're concerned about development changing bear habitat.

Human encroachment is increasing the number of bears that are shot in defense of life or property, the biologists contend.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the U.S. Department of the Interior organized the panel last year to recommend ways to conserve peninsula brown bears before the population begins to drop.

The panel includes landowners, Native interests, sportsmen, tourism-related businesses, industry, environmental groups and state and federal agencies.

''A lot of our bear problems in recent times have been caused by problems in people's yards -- garbage, livestock, poultry, dog food,'' said Gino Del Frate, assistant area biologist for the state Division of Wildlife Conservation in Homer.

''There's a lot of people who hoard their garbage. They have two, three, four, or five months of garbage piled up.''

The state will accept public comments on the plan until May 16, Del Frate said. Public meetings on the plan were sparsely attended last week at Kenai, Cooper Landing and Moose Pass.

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