Living with bears

by • May 15, 2017 • Highlights, Safety MattersComments (0)9

Learn to peacefully coexist with Alaska’s wildest life

A curious Alaska black bear raids garbage left outside. Clean up now to avoid bear encounters this summer. Courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A curious Alaska black bear raids garbage left outside. Clean up now to avoid bear encounters this summer. Courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

I guess having been born and raised in Alaska, I sometimes forget that not everyone understands or knows how to behave in bear country. Maybe there are some people, like our new neighbors, who really don’t know that putting dog food and a sack of garbage outside their house is like opening a bear restaurant.
Each spring we look forward to spotting bears on the hillside as they emerge from hibernation. Most years we are not disappointed. One spring I remember watching through the binoculars as a mother and two cubs frolicked in the snow.
With our window on their natural habitat, the marvel of being able to witness nature like this still amazes me. And in all the years of watching, we’ve never had a problem with the bears invading our space. We respect theirs. They respect ours.
But in recent years, things have been changing. Despite the fact that Alaska is becoming more and more urban, we are still living in a rural, wilderness state. We Alaskans like it that way.
We also understand and accept that while more people are moving here or coming to visit, we want and need these people to use their head when it comes to our friends – the bears on the mountain.
I look forward to my walks and realize this will be spoiled if the bears become attracted to my neighbor’s bag of dog food, sack of garbage, bird feeder and other bear magnets.
One day my walk didn’t seem like such a good idea. With this “open all day” diner to entice the bears, it suddenly felt too risky that the bears might be walking down the hill to feast at this new bear eatery.
Since the owners were not home at the time, I completed my walk by turning around and hiking back down the hill. All the while I felt edgy and spooked by every little rustle in the bushes. A bird, startled by my dog’s nose-to-the-ground sleuthing, launched into flight causing my heart to pound in my chest.
I was relieved when my call to the local wildlife protection officer resulted in bear wise tips for the neighbor and a closed wildlife deli.
Anchorage has been the scene of several serious bear maulings in recent memory. Runners, hikers, bikers … it’s a terrifying prospect and one we all want to avoid.

Bears are attracted to birdseed, dog food and garbage. Be especially careful to remove such attractants as spring arrives. Courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Bears are attracted to birdseed, dog food and garbage. Be especially careful to remove such attractants as spring arrives. Courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

In 2012 and 2013 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted the Anchorage Urban Bear study by tracking six black and three brown bears in the Anchorage and Eagle River bowls. They used collar cameras and GPS tracking devices to record the bears in action. And then at a preset date, the collars were dropped allowing scientists to retrieve them and review the data acquired.
What they discovered was that bears have easy access to anthropogenic (human provided) foods all across Anchorage. As a result, we see more human-bear conflicts with bears becoming habituated to human foods and making regular visits to the “bear eateries” springing up in neighborhoods and campgrounds across the state.
According to the ADFG, the key to reducing human-bear conflicts in town is to do a better job of securing human sources of food from bears. This means using bear-resistant garbage containers, or keeping garbage secure from bears until the morning of trash pickup. Put away pet food. Close and secure garage doors. This also means taking down bird feeders between April and November or when bears are out of their dens.
When you’re out enjoying the trails and backcountry of Alaska, the last thing you want to mar your experience is a bad bear encounter.
You can reduce the likelihood of an unwanted meeting by wearing bells and or making noise when traveling through brush or wooded areas. You don’t want to surprise a bear. Remember they will protect their babies, their food source and their home so be alert when you are in their neighborhood.
It’s up to all of us to protect our families, our homes and our pets. Not to mention any unfortunate bears that might fall victim to an easy meal and wind up in bear heaven because they became one of those “nuisance bears.”
Living in Alaska is paradise, but not when we have garbage bear problems to navigate. Ask anyone that has had that trouble. Trust me it’s no fun.
To prevent it requires a little common sense and keeping your groceries and garbage where they won’t attract a bear.
If you happen to cross paths with anyone who doesn’t know about living in bear country, a little reminder could protect all of us from a potentially dangerous bear affair.
The good news, according to the National Park Service: The chances of being injured by a bear are approximately 1 in 2.1 million. In other words, you’re more likely to be killed by a bee than a bear. It’s up to all of us to keep it that way.
For more information about how people can coexist with bears, visit www.alaskabears.alaska.gov.

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