KODIAK — Kodiak bear activity is on the downswing, but as kids head out for Halloween, an effort is on to step up safety during a particularly active bear year.
“We want to be proactive; we want to make sure we do everything we can to keep people safe,” said Larry Van Daele, the top bear official for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.
Van Daele and several members of the Kodiak Interagency Bear Safety Group spoke at length during Thursday evening’s borough assembly work session.
“We have at least two, and probably three, bears active in town right now,” he said. That figure does not include a bear killed while raiding a chicken coop last weekend.
Borough code enforcement officer Jack Maker said from his standpoint, the bears have been unusually active. “This is by far the most bear activity that I’ve ever seen in terms of getting into trash,” he said. “It’s definitely worse in the close-in road system.”
Borough assemblywoman Louise Stutes asked whether the spike in bear activity has been due to the borough’s switch to curb-based garbage pickup within city limits.
She also asked whether bear-proof roll carts are possible. “It would give the people who live out there some sense of safety,” she said.
Alaska Waste manager Rick Vahl replied that there are only four bear proof roll carts on Kodiak Island right now. In addition, most models available for sale do not work well with Alaska Waste’s automated garbage pickup system.
In the meantime, Alaska Waste has stepped up deployment of bear-resistant trash bins in areas where bears are most active.
Van Daele said that the interagency bear group has been focusing on a four-part plan. In addition to denying bears food by using the new trash bins, public safety officers have stepped up hazing efforts with rubber bullets and flashbang hand grenades.
The other two steps of the plan are public awareness and killing any bears that threaten the community.
“If the bears ever acted aggressively, they’d be put down,” he said. So far, none have.
Bear hunting season began on Thursday, and until winter arrives, the most important thing is to deny bears food. “If they don’t find it, then they’re going to head back into the hills,” Van Daele said.
Borough Mayor Jerome Selby asked the interagency bear group to get an earlier start next year. This year’s bear response accelerated only after the number of bear sightings grew.
“This year seems kind of unusual in that there’s more than what we’re used to, but the rules are still the same,” he said. “My suggestion next year is that we start getting this word out in September.”