Anchorage: You like having moose and bears as neighbors -- you just don't want any more of them. Park users in particular say wildlife makes the city "more interesting and special" and see the animals as a point of pride. Bears are less welcome than moose, but 60 percent of Anchorage opposes the idea of mapping out special bear-free zones were bears would be killed on arrival.
All that according to a new survey of Anchorage residents released this month by the state Department of Fish and Game. The aim is to gauge how the city feels about the potentially dangerous wildlife at its doorstep.
At 267 pages, it's a beast of a survey. A Virginia-based research firm hired by the state asked 1,258 people roughly 70 questions each about their encounters with -- and feelings about -- moose, brown bears and black bears.
The $40,000 effort was prompted by maulings and bear encounters in the summer of 2008 and the resulting management debate, said Mark Burch, regional assistant management coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Conservation.
Among the findings:
• Anchorage residents who never see bears in their neighborhoods generally don't want them to start coming around. But just more than half of all residents oppose killing a few bears every year to reduce the numbers.
• Two-thirds of those surveyed support legal, regulated hunting as a way to control black and brown bear populations in Far North Bicentennial Park.
• About 85 percent support a rule requiring people who live in neighborhoods frequented by bears to use bear-proof trash containers, and 84 percent support levying fines for failing to properly store garbage to prevent bear troubles.
• Nearly everyone (94 percent of those surveyed) has enjoyed watching moose in the Anchorage area even though more than half of drivers and passengers report swerving or braking to avoid them.
Slightly more than 1 in 10 people polled have been in a vehicle that hit a moose, according to the survey.
The survey found people who live in East and South Anchorage were more likely to be concerned about growing bear populations than those in West Anchorage, Eagle River and Girdwood.
"If you don't like animals, there's some places in town you probably don't want to live in," said Stuckagain Heights resident Kathy Privratsky. The neighborhood is on the edge of Bicentennial Park, Chugach State Park and Fort Richardson.
She and her husband moved to Alaska in 1992 and neighbors sometimes see black bears cross her yard, she said. "I love it. Sometimes I'm pretty stupid. ... I'll go and open the front door and watch them."
Last August, Ron Jordan posted a picture on Facebook of a moose strolling down Arctic Boulevard and munching the landscaping. Relatives on the East Coast thought it was cool, he said, but to Jordan it's dangerous.
The chairman of the Taku-Campbell Community Council, he wants to see fewer moose in the city and fewer moose being killed by cars.
"As a 40-plus-year resident I'd like to see a resumption of moose hunting up on the Hillside," Jordan said.
Of those polled, 70 percent supported legal, regulated moose hunting to control moose populations in the Anchorage region, including large parks. But 68 percent said they opposed hunting moose as an indirect way to lower brown bear numbers by reducing their food supply.
The survey results are expected to factor in a series of ongoing debates at City Hall and the state capitol over how to regulate bears, moose and people in Anchorage.
Still, Burch said the survey results alone won't decide public policy.
"We don't just do a poll and then make rules based on that," he said.
Performance Management conducted the survey between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Burch said.
Of those polled, 6 percent reported having problems with black bears over the past two years -- with bears getting into garbage or into homes as the most common troubles.
About 71 percent said that if Anchorage provided bear-proof containers, they would be willing to pay more for trash service. The region with the most support for that idea -- West Anchorage -- is the least likely to encounter bears.
Respondents generally favored keeping moose and bear populations in the Anchorage area the same, rather than reducing or increasing numbers:
• 58 percent preferred no change to the black bear population, compared to 28 percent who wanted the number of black bears reduced. The numbers were similar for brown bears.
• 63 percent wanted to keep the moose population steady, while 24 percent wanted to see declines.
Most Anchorage residents, 56 percent, named growing wildlife numbers in populated areas as the most important wildlife issues facing the city.
Of those polled, 70 percent said they "strongly agree" with the notion that people who live in Anchorage should learn to live with some conflicts or problems with wildlife.
How Anchorage feels about wildlife
Percentage of Anchorage residents who said they “strongly” or “moderately” agree with the following statements:
• “An important part of my community is the wildlife I see there from time to time.”
• “People who live in the Anchorage area should learn to live with some conflicts or problems with wildlife.”
• “I take pride in the amount of wildlife in the Anchorage area, even if they cause some problems or hazards.”
• “While some wildlife encounters can be dangerous, they make life in Anchorage more interesting and special.”
• “Some wildlife may be dangerous, and I don’t want to have these potentially dangerous species in the Anchorage area.”
Source: “Anchorage Residents’ Opinions on Bear and Moose Population Levels and Management Strategies,” a survey conducted by Responsive Management for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.