Bears get free meals from shutdown

FAIRBANKS — Grizzly bears are getting some free meals thanks to the shutdown of the federal government.

Bears in the White Mountains National Recreation Area, about 50 miles north of Fairbanks, are finding overflowing, bear-proof garbage cans at two trailheads, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Bureau of Land Management employees responsible for removing the trash have been furloughed, and bears are taking the opportunity to raid garbage containers at the Wickersham Dome and Colorado Creek trailheads.

There haven’t been any bear encounters with humans, but BLM ranger Jonathan Priday, who is one of two rangers remaining on the job, said it may only be a matter of time until that happens.

“My fear is we’re going to get habituated bears at the trailheads,” he said.

He also added it would be helpful if trail users packed out their garbage.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed its lands to public use, but both BLM and the National Park Service land is open for sport hunting, fishing and other forms of recreation. People are free to hike and use ATV trails, and people have been taking advantage of the warmer-than-usual and snow-free weather.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has only opened land to federally qualified subsistence users.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has complained about the closure of national wildlife refuges in a letter last week to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Parnell said there are provisions for the state under the National Interest Lands Conservation Act that aren’t being recognized by the agency.

“It is perplexing that the USFWS has chosen to adopt a nationwide approach, not allowing any discretion to recognize the unique situation and needs in Alaska and the mandates and commitments” made under the act, Parnell wrote.

The agency closed its lands according to a contingency plan and the national wildlife refuge system is operated as “a complete system of lands,” said Larry Bell, acting director for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

But Parnell said one of the compromises was that the Lower 48’s “closed until open” policy was not appropriate for Alaska, and Congress intended Alaska’s policy to be “open until closed.”

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