ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The stakes for Ketchikan's garbage eaters are higher than ever this spring.
In years past, problem bears, coming from their dens to forage in populated areas, could be captured and helicoptered to Misty Fiords National Monument, thanks to the Ketchikan Pulp Co.'s donated helicopter time. This year, however, bears will get no free flights, so keeping them out of Ketchikan's garbage is especially important.
''The most critical time will be during those two, three weeks when those bears come out,'' said Boyd Porter, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. ''They're looking for something to eat, and if the first thing that they find is available garbage, they're more likely to stick around.''
Four hundred-plus pounds of hungry carnivore staying in the neighborhood may pose problems on many levels, but with about 17,000 black bears in Southeast, population management isnt one of them.
''There really isn't a management issue here,'' said Porter. ''There's not (an animal) population in danger, and so it becomes either a public safety issue ... or a garbage disposal problem.''
On the garbage-disposal side of things, the City of Ketchikan is making 90-and 65-gallon sealable trash cans available to city residents. According Robert Sivertsen, city solid waste supervisor, these trash cans can be made bear-resistant with bungee cords. Also, the Public Works Department has metal dumpsters for rent to businesses and apartment buildings, some with metal, bear-proof lids.
Sivertsen recommended several ways of keeping bears at bay this spring, including using a garbage compactor and making more frequent trips to the dump. With the areawide fee, residents inside and outside the city can bring garbage to the landfill daily, he said.
Sivertsen's basic guideline was this: Remove the food source, remove the problem.
''When we stopped putting food garbage here at the landfill, the bears went away,'' he said. ''They're an animal of opportunity.''
Porter recommended removing pet foods and bird seed from outside areas as well as putting garbage out the morning of pickup day, not the night before.
On the public safety side of things, state Fish and Game recorded a total of 25 black bear attacks across Alaska between 1900 and 1999, resulting in five deaths. Over the past decade, no attacks on humans have been recorded in Ketchikan, Juneau, Petersburg or Sitka. Yet 63 bears have been killed in Ketchikan since 1994, all to deter threats to public safety.
''Last year, between (police departments and ADF&G), we handled over 500 calls on different levels,'' Porter said. ''Those calls could range from, 'A bear just walked through my yard,' to, 'A bear just ate my dog or threatened my family or pets.'''
''If a bear is posing an immediate threat to humans, police may shoot it on sight. In other cases the bear may be trapped and then put down,'' said Trooper Travis Headlund of the Alaska State Trooper Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection. ''If a bear's just after your garbage, that's not primarily a public safety threat.''
''There's no way to really write a regulation stipulating what a bear has to do in order to be taken or dispatched,'' said fellow Trooper Dara Scott. ''We do not just shoot a bear because it's in somebody's yard; that absolutely does not happen.''
Scott said troopers have usually had to respond to a specific bear complaint more than once before having to put it down.
Protecting garbage from bears is the primary way of keeping both humans and bears out of danger in Ketchikan.
We have some of the densest bear populations, highest bear populations in the world,'' Porter said. ''The likelihood that a bear will come into town is high. We want to do everything we can to make food unavailable to them so that they'll just continue to move through.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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