Kenai Tricks Trash Bears

GRANT: Neighborhood addresses problem with bruin-resistant carts

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / November 6, 2003

A Kenai neighborhood near a salmon stream has largely eliminated a problem with garbage-eating brown bears by using bear-resistant trash carts and regular collection.

In an experiment sponsored by Audubon Alaska, 37 residents in the North Dogwood area near Beaver Creek and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge got the new service for free, complete with steel-reinforced tipper carts like the one successfully tested last spring by black bears at the Alaska Zoo.

"As far as reducing the number of calls and negative interactions between people and bears in that neighborhood, it's been a total success," said Larry Lewis, wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We've had no bear calls from that neighborhood this summer. None."

Longtime resident Ray Carr said that bruins still leave tracks, but no longer hang around.

"I haven't heard of anyone in our areas having a bear problem and the dumping down here, as far as I know, has stopped," he said.

People illegally dumping fish carcasses on vacant land nearby was part of the problem, but that stopped after city crews erected a big sign, said Kenai police Sgt. Scott McBride.

"Because it was drawing the bears to the neighborhood, if we caught somebody, we were going to charge them with reckless endangerment," he said.

Audubon spent about $18,000 of a federal grant on the trash-collection experiment, as part of a larger project aimed at conserving brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula, said senior scientist John Schoen. The group also commissioned heavy-duty trash containers from local welders, mailed bear-advice booklets to 26,000 households and wrote a curriculum for schools.

In Kenai, the group worked with Peninsula Sanitation, a division of Waste Management Inc., to offer the service through Dec. 31, 2004, and coordinated with city, state and federal agencies, community groups and local businesses to spread the word.

A few people refused to sign up. And some people found it hard to lock the carts, Schoen said.

"We've talked to Waste Management about that and we're going to go back and try to engineer those lids," he said.

But others have been impressed. One resident recently reported that a bear visited her house, but moved on without snacking, said Dennis Smith, Peninsula Sanitation route manager.

"It knocked the cart over, but it could not get in," he said.

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'

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