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Kenai keeps tabs on bears: Residents urged to keep attractants cleaned up

Posted: Thursday, July 08, 2010

After the gunshots Saturday morning that killed a brown bear sow and her two cubs, the city of Kenai's designated "bear problem area" has been relatively quiet.

"Things mellowed out but we're still getting some sightings," said Rick Koch, Kenai city manager. "We're still getting several reports a day but these bears have not become habituated garbage bears yet."

According to Gus Sandahl, Kenai police chief, three cubs wandered through a yard on the Kenai Spur Highway and Highbush Lane Wednesday night. Over on Barabara Drive off of Beaver Loop Road, a juvenile brown bear was trying to get into a goose coop.

"The homeowner scared it off," Sandahl said.

These incidents, unlike last week's calls due to bears eating garbage, were not because of residents' negligence.

"Hopefully that's a sign that Kenai residents are doing their part to remove attractants," he said.

Sandhal said there are currently four to six brown bears within city limits.

"Just given how many bears we do have in the City of Kenai, parents especially and morning joggers should be cognizant of the fact there are bears still even though we had to shoot those three," Sandahl said. "Be aware there might be bears out there."

Last week, city and state officials began patrolling the east side of town where bear incidents were escalating -- from the Pillars subdivision to Beaver Loop and Angler Drive -- to get residents to remove any bear attractants from their yards.

Koch said that because "the same problem exists every year," the city will work with residents to diminish attractants in those areas annually.

"My preliminary intention is the area we've identified will remain a 'bear problem area' every year from April 1 to October 1," Koch said.

The sow and its two cubs were shot Saturday after several reported incidents of the bears damaging property to try to get to food sources.

"Even those cubs were big enough to severely injure or kill another human," Sandahl said.

The incidents intensified when a person called 911 "terrified when the bear was trying to get in the front door."

"The situation was just escalating too much," Sandahl said. "It was becoming too much of a public safety concern."

Koch said that the bears that were shot were "doomed from the get-go."

If we can get a generation of brown bears that are not habituated to eating garbage, he said, everyone would be better off, including the bears.

Further up the road, there have been reports of a bear in Sterling, according Larry Lewis of the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation.

"There's a young brown bear at Bings Landing that had approached people and taken fish from people," he said, adding that the bear obtained the fish which has emboldened him to seek more food from anglers.

"Throw your fish in the water don't let the bear take anything from you," Lewis said.

On Resurrection Pass Trail six miles up from Hope, a bear mauled three bicyclists when they came upon the sow and her two cubs.

"It was a surprise encounter," Lewis said. "Classic defensive attacks."

He said one of the bicyclist reported they had suffered "minor injuries" from scratches and claw-puncture wounds.

"They had a can of pepper spray with them and that was in one of their backpacks," Lewis said. "When the gentlemen was able to get the can of pepper spray out of their backpack it turned the bear off. It left, it ran off."

He said in the future the bicyclists said they would individually carry bear spray in a place that is easy to access.

"All that said, the fact that she knocked all three of them down, she could have done serious injury or worse," Lewis said.

Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service flew over trail to see if the bears were still in the area but did not see any.

Lewis said the area is "relatively safe."

"It's coastal Alaska the risk is always there. All we can do is try to minimize the risks for ourselves," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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