A brown bear that has been regularly feasting on garbage at the Cooper Landing waste transfer site looks for an easy lunch.
Photo submitted by Larry Lewis
Whether it’s a food delivery truck or your pickup truck and a load of trash, it’s all the same to the bear waiting at the waste transfer site for the next delivery and finishing off the remainder of your neighbor’s honey mustard and ham sandwich.
From Homer to Hope many waste transfer sights lack adequate safety features to prevent bear access and prevent a weekly routine from turning into a dangerous bear encounter, said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
People who haul waste to transfer sights are warned to honk their horns and watch carefully when approaching a waste transfer site. But some bears are so habituated to humans that horns do not scare them.
Although not all waste transfer sites are of concern, many, including waste transfer sites in Homer, Ninilchik, Hope, Cooper Landing and off of Funny River Road, lack the safety guards needed to prevent encounters between bears and humans.
Lewis said waste transfer sites in Cooper Landing and off of Funny River Road are of particular concern.
At the Cooper Landing waste transfer site, a brown bear has all but taken up residency and is creating a mess in nearby woods.
“He’ll take full sacks and drag them into the woods,” said Mayme Ohnemus, the agent for Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners.
Sexy Senior Dumpster Cleaners picks up trash around waste sites in Cooper Landing, Hope and Moose Pass on a weekly basis, and also opens and closes an access gate between the road and Cooper Landing waste transfer site, closing the site off to the public from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m..
The cleanup group said they try to clean all of the trash in the areas around the waste sites, but have to be careful when cleaning up after bears.
“We try to clean that up once in a while, but it’s too dangerous when there are bears in the woods,” Ohnemus said.
She said the group generally has to wait until later in the summer when bears are more likely to be fishing in the rivers.
“Right now they are hungry and there are no fish,” she said.
And at the Cooper Landing waste transfer site, Ohnemus said the group recently had to close the gate early, due to the visiting brown bear.
“People were honking their horns at him (and) he didn’t move,” she said. “It didn’t scare him at all, he did not flinch or anything.”
Lewis said many waste transfer sites now at least have a gate restricting human access at night, when bears are more likely to prowl for trash.
The Funny River Road waste transfer site, however, has no such safeguard and is no stranger to bears.
“We’ve had several calls already this year about bears in those dumpsters,” he said.
Lewis said the borough has made progress at many of the waste sites by restricting human access with road gates, and bear access with locked down Dumpsters between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30.
However, Lewis said bears have learned to also visit Dumpsters during the day and don’t restrict their visits to spring summer and fall.
“I’ve chased a bear out of the Cooper Landing site in November,” he said.
As an example of how a waste transfer site can be safely managed Larry cited the Sterling waste transfer site.
“It’s fully monitored and fully fenced,” he said. “It’s really a nice facility.”
Although it would be costly to staff and fully fence all waste transfer sites, doing so could eliminate bear problems at the sites, Lewis said.
He said the borough has to make tough decisions over how to disperse limited funds, that it is up to community to call and let the borough know they support securing the sites to protect both human and wildlife safety.
And less costly measures can also be taken more immediately, such as locking down Dumpsters at night year round, instead of just from May 1 to September 30.
“There are alternatives,” Lewis said. “(And) something needs to be done.”
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