Bear committee goes back to work to tackle urban bear problem

Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Mayor Sally Smith issued an order Tuesday to resurrect an Urban Bear Committee. The change came as community members expressed worry about children chasing bears in the Lemon Creek area.

Good salmon runs in nearby streams and a poor berry crop have driven bears into the neighborhood where they are meeting head-on with curious children.

''It's worse than other parts of town because of behavior of people around bears,'' said Neil Barten, state Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. ''Its silly and dangerous.''

Mark Farmer, who chaired the city's Urban Bear Committee and also tracks bears as part of the city's Urban Bear Patrol, said children's interactions with the animals have changed the need for the committee.

Of the 68 bear reports received by police in an eight-day period ending Aug. 24, Lemon Creek accounted for 25 reports, records show.

''Its gone from an environmental and animal rights issue to a public safety issue,'' Farmer said.

Smith disbanded the bear committee after it finished work on an ordinance designed to crack down on garbage problems and protect bears. Juneau residents are now required to store garbage inside until the day of garbage pickup unless it is in a bear-resistant container.

Kevin Stoddard, who lives on Lemon Creek Road, said he saw children chasing bears in his neighborhood a couple of days ago. Police also issued a warning to two boys for chasing a bear in Gruening Park near Switzer Creek on Monday, reports show.

''I told them to knock it off. They said they were chasing it into the woods,'' Stoddard said.

Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter said he has asked for stepped up patrols in the area and he urged parents to keep their children from chasing bears.

''People need to be reminded that those are wild animals. Tormenting them is against the law and unsafe,'' Porter said.

Farmer had complained that it had been three weeks since Smith vowed to reinstate the committee but has not taken any official action.

Smith formally made the announcement on Tuesday during a radio interview because she said she was having difficulty taking such action during public meetings. Smith missed the last two assembly meetings due to illness.

But Smith was advised that she need only make a public announcement to reinstate the committee, she told KINY radio.

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