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Bears still looking for easy meals

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger doesn't mind visiting a Kenai or Soldotna subdivision to dispatch a problematic brown bear. But when garbage, bird seed, unsecured freezers or pet food plays a role in the bear's presence, he'll tell you that removing the offending animal won't solve the problem.

"I'm convinced that we have more bears in the urban interface than is socially acceptable, and I'm not opposed to reducing the number of bears in human settled areas," he said, adding that the bear population on the Kenai Peninsula could be reduced while still maintaining its health. "(But) it's going to take input from everybody, especially residents and citizens of our settled areas."

Selinger, an area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Kenai Police Department were called around 1 a.m. on Tuesday when a sow and her cub broke a window at a residence on Strawberry Road in Kenai. When Selinger investigated, the garbage bags and bird feeders on the resident's porch were a dead giveaway to the reason for the bears' visit. Even though the resident took responsibility for the garbage, Selinger said many people call Fish and Game demanding the department take action against the bears before a kid gets mauled.

"(They say) what's it going to take? Are you going to wait until a kid gets mauled before you do anything," he said. "(When we) find out what the bear is doing, there is always something the bear is getting into. We can always find attractants."

Now that it's November and the weather is turning cold, a lot of people are expecting bears to go into hibernation, but Selinger said bears will be active as long as there's a food source available to them. Even when bears do go to sleep, they never go into a dead hibernation. Selinger said bears will sleep for a couple of days at a time, waking up periodically to stretch their legs and take a look around.

Lt. Kim Wannamaker of the Kenai Police Department said even though bear calls are more uncommon in late fall than during the spring and early summer, police officers will respond to bear calls until Thanksgiving. Strawberry Road is a high-density bear area, he said, but people will call in bear sightings from all over the city. When the resident notified the Kenai Police Department, he said the bear broke a window in his home, but Wannamaker said he didn't think it was intentional. According to police dispatches, after the bear broke the window, the resident beat it with a flowerpot in order to drive it away.

Selinger said he's responded to a lot of bear calls recently, particularly in the areas of Funny River Road, the Murwood subdivision off of Kalifornsky Beach Road, Cooper Landing and Strawberry Road. On Thursday he responded to a call on Lou Morgan Road near Sterling of a bear that was rolling a freezer. The freezer, Selinger said, was secured with ratchet straps, but he suspects the bears had access to the food inside it before and they were looking for another easy meal.

The resident had a shotgun with him when he took his dogs out and shot over the bears' heads when he saw them. One of the bears stood up on its hind legs to get a better look at the man, but the second bear charged him.

"When he shot it, it ran off," he said, adding that he was headed out there in order to see if the bear was injured or not. "(The resident) is not sure if he hit it."

Selinger said even though the resident allowed access to the inside of his freezer by not securing it before, he considered the ratchet straps a reasonable measure to deter a bear. Residents can also purchase bear-resistent garbage containers or keep their garbage and livestock feed under lock and key. Selinger also said if they feed their dogs outside, residents should give them five minutes to eat before bringing the food back inside. He also encourages residents to encourage their neighbors to keep those attractants to a minimum, saying that it's often one individual or home that causes problems for the rest of the neighborhood, as well as to call law enforcement and Fish and Game when bear issues arise.

"Human settlement comes at a certain expense to wildlife, that's just how it is," he said. "People have every right to have livestock and feed animals, but people also have a responsibility to minimize potential conflicts with wildlife."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.



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