Garbage Bears are at it Again

EAGLE RIVER: Residents who improperly store trash outdoors could be cited

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / October 21, 2003


Two or more brown bears roaming neighborhoods above Eagle River over the past few weeks raided trash again early Monday morning.
This time biologists took photographs of three houses in the Eagle Crossing area where the bruins scattered garbage, and forwarded the snapshots to Alaska State Troopers. Offenders could be fined $100.

"We're trying to break this whole cycle of us responding to the bears," said Rick Sinnott, management biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game. "My reasoning now is if I'm going to get up at 3:30 in the morning to go to Eagle River, then somebody is going to get a citation. This is enough."

Sightings between Sunday night and Monday morning included bears in the woods, bears digging in blue construction trash bins, bears hitting trash cans by two homes on Eagle Place Loop, and a bear rummaging through a pickup's bed on Highland Ridge Drive.

A state law revised last year holds people liable when bears dine on their garbage because of negligence or improper storage. Sinnott and police said they didn't think any Anchorage resident has been cited yet.

But issuing fines sounds good to Eagle Crossing homeowners association president Thomas Jennings, who said he and other people have been frustrated with some neighbors who don't take the presence of bears seriously and keep storing their trash outdoors.

The practice violates the association's rules and common sense, he said. The organization has sent out letters, applied peer pressure and issued a few $25 fines. But some people still don't keep their refuse in a garage or screened enclosure.

"It's totally outrageous," Jennings said. "It's unconscionable because our garbage pickup day is Thursday morning."

Staff members and teachers at Alpenglow and Ravenwood elementary schools have been talking to parents and kids about bear safety during the past week, said School District spokesman Roger Fielder. Ravenwood held indoor recess one day when someone reported a bear nearby, and Alpenglow practiced evacuating the playground.

"They're doing a lot to stay on top of it," Fielder said. "They're having extra staff outside the schools in the morning and afternoon, providing an extra set of eyes."

For at least two weeks, a fat, fluffy brown bear has been eating garbage and visiting Eaglewood, Eagle Crossing and other neighborhoods on the hillside above the river-bottom greenbelt east of Eagle River Loop.

A pair of bears were reported in the area beginning last Thursday, and no one is quite sure whether there are two or three bruins wandering around.

State biologists have received more than 50 reports and visited the area 13 times to try to catch the bears in the act and shoot them with rubber bullets to drive them off. If the bears don't change their habits, biologists might have to kill them.

The sightings ranged from a bear in a grease bucket at a home near Ravenwood to a bear in a yard near Wal-Mart to a bear sauntering porch to porch on Highland Ridge Drive last Wednesday morning, apparently sniffing around for stray eats.

Sinnott and assistant biologist Jessy Coltrane had visited the neighborhood twice before 11 a.m. Monday, including one trip in the middle of the night. They saw a bear moving off into the woods but didn't get a good look in the dark. They planned to return last night, in time for the eve of Eaglewood's garbage pickup today.

"I'm thinking of buying a house in Eagle River and just moving out there," Sinnott quipped.

Last week, Karen Deatherage, with Defenders of Wildlife, visited the neighborhood and distributed 250 door hangers urging people to properly store garbage, pet food and birdseed away from bears.
"We're getting a 1,000 more door-hangers printed as we speak, and we'll be out there later this week," she said.

"Killing these bears is never going to solve the problem. As long as there is garbage available, the bears will keep coming."

"The best chance is if everyone puts away their trash," Sinnott added. "We've got to break the link. It's an easy solution. Especially since everyone in that neighborhood has a garage."
Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do' .

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