Neighbors instrumental in making project work

Posted: Sunday, December 07, 2003

For people living in neighborhoods frequented by bears who are wondering what price they will have to pay to have peace of mind, there is finally an answer $5.48 per month.

That's how much it will cost for people looking to make the switch to the bear-resistant waste receptacles, according to Dennis Smith, route manager at Peninsula Sanitation.

"It's currently $15.52 per month for garbage pick-up, and it would be $21 to have the bear-resistant containers provided and have the weekly pick-up," Smith said at an open public meeting Friday night in Kenai.

The meeting was called to discuss the success of an ongoing Bear-Safe Neighborhood Project that began in June and runs until December 2004.

The project made possible through a grant and partnership between the Audubon Society and Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides bear-resistant receptacles, free of charge, to more than 50 homeowners in the Valhalla Heights and Shaginoff subdivisions in Kenai. These two areas previously had been known for high activity of nuisance bears.

"Based on this first year, it's been a huge success," said John Schoen, a senior scientist with Audubon Alaska and one of the people responsible for the project's inception.

"We're delighted how well it's gone as a pilot project," Schoen said. "Cooperation has been the name of the game. From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Fish and Game to Peninsula Sanitation to the local law enforcement officers to the local residents, the cooperation has just been remarkable. It's really shown what can be accomplished when people communicate and work together."

Schoen isn't the only one who feels the project is a success. Sgt. Scott McBride of the Kenai Police Department also attested to the positive effects of the pilot program, combined with the efforts of the local law enforcement officers to crack down on illegal fish dumping.

"We didn't have a single nuisance bear complaint from the project area, or from neighborhoods close by," McBride said. "This year we saw only one set of bear tracks, one time. In past years officers would bump into bears on a regular basis."

Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with Fish and Game, said he also feels the project has been a success.

"Every summer there was a growing number of problems with bears getting into garbage, pushing on people's doors and just being a nuisance in these neighborhoods," he said. "I took more than 116 nuisance bear calls. Not Fish and Game, me personally, I took that many. Not one was from either of these areas."

The accolades for the project didn't stop when residents of the neighborhoods were asked to give their input during the open meeting.

Vicki Oman lives on Phillips Drive in the Valhalla Heights subdivision, where she keeps dogs, as well as sheep, chickens and other livestock.

"I've lived there for 15 years and at least twice a year bears would try to get in (to the animals)," Oman said. "Since the project started I've had no problems, seen no tracks, not even scat. I'm very grateful."

Based on the success of the pilot project, the bear-resistant receptacles will soon become available to other peninsula residents outside the test area.

"Ideally we would like to see this build and spread throughout the peninsula," said Jeff Selinger, area manager for Fish and Game.

However, the service and receptacles will currently not be subsidized to residents outside the two subdivisions, or to people within the subdivisions after next Decem-ber's completion of the pilot program.

Derek Stonorov, author of "Living in Harmony with Bears," has been involved in this project's design and implementation from the ground up. He added that the project also has branched out, making bear-resistant Dumpster lids to be used throughout the peninsula.

"The amount of new Dumpster lids won't be unlimited, but the number we have will be a start and, hopefully, we'll get more in the future," Stonorov said.

So far, two bear "hot spots" have received bear-resistant Dumpster lids and already seen success as a result.

"We used them at Paul Banks Elementary in Homer and at Cooper Landing Elementary," Stonorov said.

Dennis Smith added, "They were having a lot of problems with bears coming in during the middle of the day, but there have been no more problems since the lids were switched."

Anyone interested in learning more about the Bear-Safe Neigh-borhood Project should contact Larry Lewis at 262-9368. Residents interested in switching to the bear resistant receptacles should contact Dennis Smith at 283-9390.

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