Spring means restless, hungry bears

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008

KENAI - As the daylight hours grow longer and the snow melts, bears begin to emerge from their dens. Some are content to sit outside their den and soak up the sun, others have cubs in tow, but generally all bears are in search of one thing: easy food.

Wildlife technician Larry Lewis, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said bears generally begin stirring as early as March, but not a month goes by that bear reports don't trickle into the department's Soldotna office.

"I'm trying to raise awareness for people," Lewis said. He wants to get people to consider the long term consequences for short term lapses in judgment and how that can affect their neighbors. "If they can think outside the box a little bit and help keep bears wild and people safe," he said.

When bears emerge from their dens, Lewis said they are motivated by their search for easily accessible food. Sometimes if they don't find any bears will go back into their dens, but more often than not, their search will lead them to a transfer site or someone's back porch. Most bear encounters are reported between April and June, Lewis said. Bears are opportunistic, and Lewis wants people to realize that if an animal can find a meal at someone's back porch, there's no reason for them to naturally forage for their own food.

"I don't look at that as a problem bear, I look at it as a people behavior problem," Lewis said. "If we look at the greater picture, we choose to live in coastal Alaska and these animals are indigenous to this area, they have an intrinsic value. I don't think anybody can deny we would have less of an Alaska if we didn't have brown bears here, so it's our human responsibility to live responsibly with these animals."

Human responsibility doesn't stop with bears, Lewis said. He mentioned a moose situation down in Ninilchik. Someone had been feeding it, he said, and even though it's not dangerous it's created a lot of problems. A large animal doesn't know its own strength, and it's learned to associate people with food. Lewis said there's a possibility the moose could approach kids walking home from school and other folks in the neighborhood trying to find free handouts.

"Generally it's the animal that pays the price for something that didn't have to happen in the first place," Lewis said.

Lewis said wildlife problems aren't specific to Alaska. Whether it's living with mountain lions or coyotes, development displaces wildlife. But because humans leave out readily available food sources, people have encouraged them to stay. Often, the calls Lewis receives are from people who tell him that they've got a bear problem and he needs to come do something about it.

"Our goal here is to help people understand that there are responsibilities that we have that the animals don't," he said. "They're not responsible to us."

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