Who bears the blame?

People can take action to avoid nuisance bears

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2005


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  A garbage can overflows with trash at Soldotna Creek Park after the July 4 weekend. The cans were pawed through by a brown bear sow with cubs. Photo courtesy of Jeff Selinger,

Illegal dumping of fish carcasses along Kalifornsky Beach Road last week is setting the scene for nuisance bear problems.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Selinger,

Living in a big city, there are certain precautions that must be taken in order to stay safe — latching doors before going to bed, setting car alarms and any number of other measures to prevent crime.

In most parts of Alaska, the crime of big cities is not as prevalent, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't keep safety in mind.

"Here we have wildlife — bears in particular — and that requires taking appropriate actions to prevent negative interactions with them," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Manager Jeff Selinger.


A garbage can overflows with trash at Soldotna Creek Park after the July 4 weekend. The cans were pawed through by a brown bear sow with cubs.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Selinger,

Selinger said he has received numerous nuisance bear calls recently, but that the vast majority of incidents might not have happened had proper preventative measures been taken.

"Of the calls I get, almost all — 90 percent — are preventable," he said.

Just over a week ago, the Peninsula Clarion reported on a brown bear sow with cubs that had feasted on livestock being kept for a 4-H project off of Strawberry Road. It was not the first time this season bears made of with a peninsula resident's chickens.

Days later, and not more than two weeks after cleaning up halibut carcasses dumped in Slikok Creek in Soldotna, Fish and Game received a report of an individual dumping flat-fish carcasses in a pile just outside city limits —a situation ripe for chumming in bears.

Over the Independence Day weekend, several calls came in after a brown bear sow with cubs began foraging through heaping cans of garbage in Soldotna Creek Park.

The common thread between these three situations is each invited bears with unsecured attractants.

"A bear can be the problem and some will need to be removed, but a lot of times the problem isn't the bear, it's the setting that's the problem, and the setting can be adapted and changed to not invite bears," Selinger said.

For example, in the case of protecting livestock, Selinger said electrical fencing can be utilized as a powerful deterrent to bears.

"I don't know of one incident where a bear got through a properly working electric fence," he said.

In regard to the Soldotna Creek Park garbage cans, Selinger recommended people dispose of waste more responsibly and stated that park managers have ordered bear-resistant trash receptacles as a result of the incident.

"People should use the proper receptacles, and if those are full, they should bring their trash elsewhere," he said.

Even bear-resistant receptacles are only useful if utilized properly. Stuffing cans so full the lids won't close and leaving trash spilling out onto the ground won't deter bears.

In regard to other attractants, such as fish waste, barbecue grills, pet food, suet and bird seed, Selinger recommends storing these items in a secure location to reduce the probability of negative interactions with bears.

"A bear's drive is to expend as little energy as possible in obtaining food. Getting an easy meal, such as an unlocked freezer full of fish, is easier for them than getting fish out of the river. Once or twice is all it takes to have them testing every freezer," he said.

If rewarded from snooping with food, bears learn to associate people with food, or at least places people live with food.

"That's never safe," Selinger said.

Charged with the task of protecting both the general public and a natural resource, Selinger said some people get frustrated by the actions — or seeming lack there of — of Fish and Game.

"A lot of people think we should just move (nuisance bears)," Selinger said.

He explained that this isn't feasible as a first response tactic since it doesn't address the problem of the attractant.

"The solution is to remove the attractants, then if a bear is still coming around and causing problems, the department may need to move it," Selinger said.

Removing or securing attractants may be a little more work. People may have to go on a dump run two to three times a week and store garbage in a bear-resistant containers or well-built, secure structures in between runs.

As much as taking this kind of preventive action may be an inconvenience in the short run, it can pay dividends in the long run.

"Putting in a little time, effort and investment initially can provide 20 years of safety," Selinger said.

Taking appropriate steps to protect themselves and their property from bears puts residents on the same page as Fish and Game.

"We want to help people, but people also need to help themselves," he said.

Fish and Game has numerous books, videos and other information pertaining to bear-proofing and bear safety that are available to the general public.

"We can give designs for bear-proof containers. We can show people how to set up electric fences. We're here and 100 percent willing to help," Selinger said.

Anyone interested in learning more about living in harmony with bears can stop by the Soldotna Fish and Game office or call 262-9368.

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