Some good news and some bad news for bears came out of the Soldotna City Council meeting Wednesday.
First the good news: urban bears will not be looked upon as problem bears in the city.
The bad news? Bears won't be finding as many free eats around town.
With the goal of reducing the number of negative bear-human interactions, Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife technician Larry Lewis pitched the Soldotna council to become part of the Wildlife Conservation Community Program.
To kick off the program, Lewis said he has been able to secure $11,000 to provide bear-proof Dumpster lids for the city of Soldotna. He said another $4,000 is available in a cost-share program for electric fencing around livestock areas, smokers and outdoor freezers, but that money is available throughout the Kenai Peninsula, not just Soldotna.
The grant funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is being administered by the Kenai Peninsula chapter of Safari Club International, Lewis said.
Everyone on the city council nodded in favor of joining the wildlife conservation program.
Lewis said until now, only two communities on the Kenai Peninsula -- Soldotna and Anchor Point -- were not part of the program.
He said there is no cost involved in joining, but simply asks that participating communities change their ordinances to help enforce regulations deterring bears from becoming problem bears.
Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking Jr. indicated his department would gladly assist Fish and Game with enforcement.
Some city officials said "the previous administration" did not believe Soldotna had a bear problem.
Lucking said there is little doubt of its existence in city neighborhoods.
Councilman Jim Stogsdill, one of the longest serving members of the governing body, said the city appealed to the state "a couple years back" for funding to purchase bear-proof trash receptacles for the city, the funding was approved, but the governor vetoed it from the budget.
In an informational brochure distributed by Lewis, humans are accused of providing bears with "very low-effort, easily accessible food sources" in the form of garbage, dog food, fish carcasses, bird seed, livestock and feed, and fish in smokers.
In addition to a bear-safe neighborhood education campaign being conducted for community residents, by joining the conservation program, Soldotna residents will be able to purchase bear-resistant tipper refuse cans for $50. The trash cans normally retail for $200, Lewis said.
He said the program was successfully implemented in Kenai a couple of years ago and the city effort has become a template for the wildlife conservation program.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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