Bear backers push for garbage control

Comments mixed on banning bird feeders to solve bear troubles

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2001

Two bears showed up at the city's bear committee meeting Thursday night, but the costumed high school students didn't speak.

That doesn't mean the interests of bears were unrepresented. The committee, putting together proposals to control garbage so that it won't attract bears, said the plan will preserve bears' lives and redirect the animals to healthier natural forage.

"We live in prime bear country and have a great deal of bears here," committee chairman Mark Farmer said in support of making the urban bear the symbol of Juneau. "There's no reason we shouldn't look at bears as having an intrinsic value of their own, not just as a problem."

The police responded to about 1,000 bear calls last year, usually with two officers, costing about $100,000 in their time, said Police Chief Mel Personett.

Police killed five bears last year, many fewer than in years such as 1987, when 21 bears were killed, or 1991, when 15 were killed. But the number of bears in neighborhoods this year made it a public safety concern, including reports of tourists surrounding a bear on South Franklin Street. Farmer, a mayoral candidate for a time, campaigned partly on a plan to control garbage.

Gordon Taylor said he supported the ideas the committee already has adopted as recommendations to the mayor and the Juneau Assembly.

"I just look at them as great ideas that have very little cost and yet have the effect that we're not going to be killing bears," he said after the meeting. "I don't see anything that's going to raise my taxes, and it's going to save bears."

The costs to individuals, in buying bear-resistant garbage containers or locks on Dumpsters, is minor compared to the value of a bear's life, he said.


"They're just fabulous animals," Taylor said.

Taylor also wanted the city to ban outdoor feeding of dogs unless it's in a fenced area. And he said bed-and-breakfasts or restaurants that use food to attract bears as a way to please tourists should be fined heavily.

The committee's plan includes mandatory bear-resistant containers or enclosures for garbage; garbage cans identified by owner so police can ticket offenders; locks on commercial Dumpsters; addressing garbage storage during the usual city review of new construction; and not leaving garbage cans out all night.

"Enforcement works once we have adequate regulations that require appropriate things to keep bears out," Personett said in response to citizens' requests to put some teeth into enforcement. Now as long as people have a tight-fitting lid on a garbage can, they can leave it out all night, Personett said.

The plan also includes a ban on bird-feeders, except for hummingbird-feeders, when bears are active; a bear hot line to channel citizens' calls to various agencies; more education of police about bear behavior and when bears should be relocated or killed; and public education.

George Utermohle spoke against the bird-feeder ban, which the committee said might apply from mid-April through mid-November. State wildlife biologist and committee member Neil Barten said he got 400 to 500 calls last summer from residents about bears in their neighborhood and a lot had to do with bird-feeders.

Utermohle, who lives at Norway Point, said he has fed birds for 20 years and had a bear in a feeder only this summer. He removed the feeder.

"The bears won't stop coming into the city if you ban bird-feeders." Utermohle said after the meeting. A ban "would have an effect on my enjoyment of the environment in which we live."

The committee will meet in the next two weeks to consider the citizens' comments from Thursday before it presents recommendations to Mayor Sally Smith and the assembly, Farmer said.

Farmer said he was pleasantly surprised by the public comments Thursday. On the street, he hears from people who want the bears shot and who don't want to be told what to do with their garbage.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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