Clifford Hugg, president of the Safari Club International-Alaska Kenai Peninsula Chapter, unloads a bear resistant waste receptacle at the Kenai Municipal Airport on Thursday.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Brown bears will now have one less tempting treat within the city limits of Kenai, as on Thursday several older trash barrels at the Kenai Municipal Airport were replaced with new, bear resistant receptacles through the Wildlife Conservation Community Program (WCCP).
"Hopefully, this will get people coming to Kenai into the mind-set of being responsible around wildlife," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in regard to the new receptacles at the entrance and exit of the airport.
He explained the WCCP is a citywide cooperative effort involving municipal, state and federal agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations and citizens with the purpose to change the culture of how humans and wildlife interact, particularly brown bears.
Part of this process involves converting waste receptacles to bear-resistant ones and retrofitting Dumpsters with bear-proof lids. To offset the costs, $90,000 in funds have been awarded through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, and $38,000 was received from ConocoPhillips. The Safari Club International-Alaska Kenai Peninsula Chapter a local hunting and wildlife conservation club is responsible for administering the funds.
"As there's more bears and more people, there's more conflict and we want to mitigate that," said Dave Donald, a Safari Club member, in regard to the group's interest in the project.
While the airport entrance and exit is not known as a problem area for bears, bruin activity is not uncommon on airport property, Lewis said.
"I was just out there last week on a call," he said.
Earl Hicks, operation supervisor at the airport said a brown bear had crossed the runway and was standing on a gravel road in an area of the airport under construction. It was only one of several bear sightings in the area as of late.
"We've had a lot of bear activity around here. We had a moose calf killed by a bear on the back side of airport property near Floatplane Road last month, and a bear spotted recently on the corner of airport property near Marathon Road," Hicks said.
With bears lingering nearby, Hicks said the new receptacles would be a welcome addition to the facilities.
"These things can only help," he said.
Lewis added that even though bears hadn't been raiding the old garbage barrels, it was still a good idea for the new receptacles to be implemented.
"It's taking a proactive measure, rather than waiting until there's a problem," he said.
Lewis said city residents should follow the airport's example because a little bit of work to reduce attractants like garbage, can go a long way toward preventing bear problems. He said one need only look at the pilot program that took place a few years ago in the Valhalla Heights and Shaginoff subdivisions within Kenai to see this is true.
After becoming a hotbed of bear activity for several years prior to the project, property owners within these two subdivisions were provided with free garbage pickup for two years if they agreed to use bear-resistant garbage cans that were supplied to them.
Lewis said during those two years, there were no calls to Fish and Game or the Kenai Police Department regarding negative interactions with bears within the project area.
"They dropped from more than 100 calls to zero, so it can be done," he said.
Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Fish and Game, said despite how simple preventing problems is, many people aren't making the effort. He said Fish and Game responded to more than a dozen nuisance bear calls again this past week, in several locations from Kasilof to Kenai, and from Nikiski to Copper Landing.
"All of them were directly related to garbage. Either the people called directly about a bear in their garbage or their neighbors called to say bears were into garbage, but it was the same old story," Selinger said.
Bear-resistant receptacles normally retail for $250, but Lewis said they are available for purchase through Industrial Refuse or Alaska Waste at a cost of $50 for people living within the city of Kenai. They also are available for roughly $200 for those living outside the city.
For more information on the Wildlife Conservation Community Program, contact Lewis at Fish and Game at 262-9368.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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