Jill Garnet was so focused on her work she almost didn't see the bear a few feet away, but once she did, she found it breathtaking.
Its golden-brown muzzle stood out against the coal-black color of its fur, and the roughly 4-year-old male bear looked like he had been doing well at packing on a few pounds this summer. The image seem like a slice of Alaska life at its best.
That is until the hungry bruin climbed into the back of a beat-up truck and began feeding on several days to weeks worth of rotting human garbage -- an action that ultimately lead to the animal's untimely death.
"It was very, very sad, and not just because he lost his life, but because he lost his life to either ignorance or apathy," Garnet said.
The incident took place Wednesday at a residence off of Mackey Lake Road. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was called to respond, and it was they who made the decision to put the animal down, making it the 24th bear to die this season as a result of a human-caused mortality. Of these, this bruin was the first black bear killed; all the rest have been brownies.
Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manager with Fish and Game, cited the reason the bear was dispatched.
"I approached it as it was chomping away on the five to 10 bags of garbage that had been there for awhile. It didn't run off, and it made an aggressive move. It wasn't afraid of humans. Given those circumstances, and that it was in a residential neighborhood, I decided the best course of action was to put it down," he said.
Garnet inquired about relocating the bear, but Selinger said it wasn't a viable option.
"We've moved them without good results. This year alone we've already relocated four bears, and they've either come back or displayed the same behavior elsewhere," he said, and added as a result, three of those four bears are now dead, as well.
Selinger said the resident that left out the garbage has been cited for "negligently feeding game," and issued a $300 fine, but Garnet said the punishment should have been more severe considering the egregious circumstances that attracted the bear, and that it lost its life.
"It was totally preventable had the guy not been as blatant as to leave several days to weeks of trash out. There are bear-resistant containers for people that want to accumulate it rather than hauling it off daily," she said.
Garnet isn't one of those people that preaches about peacefully coexisting with bears, but doesn't actually live near any. She said she speaks from a firsthand perspective, since her 11-acre parcel in Kasilof used to be a thoroughfare for bears.
"I live in a high traffic area. Our first summer, we counted 12 separate bears, based on their sizes and the number of cubs they had with them, and those are just the ones we saw. There were always tracks and scat from others we didn't see," she said.
Also, Garnet is a musher who stores large amounts of dry food and frozen fish for the dogs, so wanting to keep her animals and herself safe, she said she called Fish and Game not long after moving in and took their advice about how to prevent any negative bear encounters.
"Our dog food is stored in a locked trailer. Our garbage goes to the dump daily when we go to work. Our outside freezers are strapped down, locked with a key and even covered to camouflage them since some bears know what freezers are. We also got rubber slugs for the shotgun and used it when we had to," she said.
As a result, Garnet said she hasn't had a bear in her yard since that initial summer a few years ago. Selinger said Garnet's success in preventing bear problems is a textbook example.
"It's the message we're trying to get out. It may be a little inconvenient, but it's not difficult to do," he said.
One person, or even several people, doing the right thing isn't enough, though. Since one "bad apple" can ruin the safety of others, Selinger said it takes everyone living responsibly to reduce conflicts between humans and bears.
Garnet said she understands this principle and believes people need to be proactive en mass to make things better.
"If you're worried about crime, you form a neighborhood watch. I think this should be the same thing, with neighbors getting together to put pressure on people not being responsible," she said.
Garnet said she also would like to see a better educational campaign, not just on reducing bear attractants, but also one focusing on who to call when someone is disregarding safety practices, and what will be done to violators.
"It's a little ambiguous who enforces these regulations. If I don't know who to call, I think there are other people that also don't know who to call," she said.
Selinger said, as this incident exemplifies, Fish and Game is one of several local agencies that can and will write citations.
"We don't want to write them, but when neighbors are doing their parts and one individual isn't by leaving out obvious attractants, we feel it's appropriate," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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