Bears Return to City Area

SIGHTINGS: Careless treatment of garbage may bring fine, biologist says

Peter Porco / Anchorage Daily News / April 16, 2004

Quietly but surely, bear season has begun in the Anchorage area.

A black and a brown were seen recently in the near reaches of Chugach State Park adjacent to the city, a ranger said this week. They were the first bear sightings of the spring and a sign that the critters are waking from their winter nap and beginning to move about.

Expect more to be seen over the next several weeks, including bears that, in some cases, will journey inside the perimeters of the city in search of easy grub, according to Rick Sinnott, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage.

Sinnott had a warning Thursday for homeowners: Those who are careless with their garbage, bird seed or pet food may wind up paying the piper, he said, even as some bears may end up paying with their lives.

Last fall in an Eagle River subdivision, one of the most drawn-out episodes of a garbage-induced bear intrusion led to the first citation for negligent feeding of bears given to an Anchorage homeowner.

A couple living with their five children in the Eagle Ridge subdivision received a $110 citation ($100 fine plus a surcharge) for leaving garbage "in a manner that attracts bears known to be in the area," as the citation states.

State law forbids carelessly feeding or using food items that attract bears, moose, wolves, coyotes, foxes or wolverines, said Sinnott.

At least two grizzlies prowled several Eagle River subdivisions during October and November, the biologist said. The Eagle Ridge, Parkview Terrace, Eagle Crossing and Eaglewood subdivisions are all near the river and its greenbelt, which bears use as a transportation corridor from up-valley in Chugach park.

The strip of development is about two miles long and a quarter-mile wide, and the bears came "every night for six to eight weeks getting garbage," Sinnott said.

"We would drive around and count the number of people with garage (put) out at night before 11 p.m.," he said. "It was a quarter to a third of each neighborhood every night."

Sinnott estimated that 400 to 450 homeowners were placing their garbage out at night every week.

"The bears didn't have to look for food," he said.

Sinnott advised homeowners to place their garbage at the curb as close as possible to the morning pickup time, which is not earlier than 7 a.m.

"What I'm really worried about this spring is that one or both of those young brown bears will come back," said Sinnott. "They'll be a little bigger, a little older, a little hungrier."

If the bruins show the slightest aggression to people, "we'll have to put them down," he said.

Some people will be happy with that result, others will not, according to Sinnott. Either way, shooting the bears is no solution because other bears will move into the dead bears' range.

The answer, he said, is to roll up the bird feeders now and to make sure garbage and pet food are inaccessible. Troopers will be watching.

"We'll be writing tickets," Sinnott said. "Last fall we wrote just a few, but we collected evidence on a bunch of people."

"Now it's time to make examples of people who just don't get it," he added.

The president of a homeowners association in the area agreed with Sinnott that it's reasonable to expect residents to keep their garbage off the street until the morning.

"The trucks don't come by until 7:30 (a.m.) at the absolute earliest," said Thomas Jennings of Eagle Crossing. "Mine doesn't come until well after noon." His association, which has more than 230 members, has given notices to homeowners who leave their garbage out too long, Jennings said.

Chugach State Park rangers also are issuing their customary warnings. Park visitors, especially travelers in the backcountry, need to be bear-wise, said Chugach chief ranger Mike Goodwin.
The general advice is to be watchful and make noise, and never to feed bears.

"Trail runners need to be really heads up," he said. Runners in the backcountry often have their heads down watching where they put their feet, which can lead to surprise encounters.

Two runners, a mother and son, were killed by a brown bear about 10 years ago on the McHugh Lake Trail. They surprised the bear, which was devouring a moose about 10 feet off the trail.

The first known bear sighting this spring was made a week ago today near the Turnagain Arm trail head at McHugh Creek, said Goodwin, who saw the encounter.

A jogger with a dog on the Turnagain Arm trail surprised a large black bear.

"It was kind of a surprise encounter, but the black bear got chased (off) by the dog," he said. "That bear may be on a carcass."

Another sighting was made several days ago, Goodwin said. Skiers on the Middle Fork Loop Trail above the Hillside saw a brown bear. Goodwin said he heard the story second hand and had few details about it Thursday.

"They're soon going to get very active," said Goodwin. "People should be looking for the signage we're putting in the high-use areas."

Green signs indicate a bear alert: "There's been a bear around," in Goodwin's words. "There are no problems, but just be aware." Green means "go-ahead with caution," he said.

A red sign urges travelers to stop and go back. "It means there's been a recent problem here, and that's a little bit higher alert level than the green bear alert," Goodwin said.

Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at or 257-4582

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