KENAI - As the days grow longer, the snow melts and the temperature continues to rise, it won't be long until bears - brown and black - are back in action around the state. As such, several agencies and individuals have formed a partnership in an effort to teach people throughout the month how to coexist with bruins.
"It's a really great effort actually," said Bobbi Jo Skibo of the Kenai Brown Bear Committee in regard to the efforts.
She said this joint effort - made up of participants from the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Juneau and Sitka - is a different approach than has been taken in the past.
"Each year across the state, several agencies, stakeholders and citizens in their local communities, try to raise awareness about bears, but we always do it alone. This year we're trying to make a concerted effort to educate residents and visitors alike about living in bear country and keeping neighborhoods safe," Skibo said.
The state has also signed onto the project, and on March 25 Gov. Sarah Palin signed an executive proclamation designating April as "Alaska Bear Awareness Month" to encourage citizens to mentor fellow Alaskans in safe and ethical participation in wildlife conservation, thereby helping to ensure the future of Alaska wildlife heritage.
"It is essential for the future of bears in Alaska that people be encouraged to foster a sense of personal responsibility for our bears and all wildlife," Palin said in the proclamation.
Skibo said receiving state support is huge, but Palin is not the only noteworthy person supporting the effort. Fly fishing guide Pudge Kleinkauf, musher Martin Buser, Alaska humorist Mr. Whitekeys and several other Alaskans are lending their voices to the project.
"All month long they'll be doing radio spots and TV commercials to ask people to help keep our neighborhoods safe and our bears wild," she said.
Skibo, like Palin in her proclamation, said these local celebrities will be reiterating some of the basics of living life among bruins. These include taking down bird feeders and cleaning up spilled bird seed and suet, keeping garbage stored indoors or in bear-resistant containers until the morning of scheduled trash pick-up or when it is ready to be hauled to a waste transfer site, and storing pet food indoors and bringing in any unfinished food after pets have eaten.
These spokespeople also will emphasize the use of electric fencing to keep bears out of compost piles, corrals, chicken coops, beehives, rabbit hutches, pig pens and other attractants, and, properly securing and disposing of fish waste so bears are drawn into the neighborhood.
"They'll be trying to hone in on the major attractants," she said.
In addition to the media blitz, local community events and school programs will also focus on bears throughout the month, and Skibo said the Kenai Peninsula Borough is continuing to pursue ways to make things better.
"The borough is really looking at their waste transfer sites," she said.
Recently, a bear resistant Dumpster was installed at the Cooper Landing waste transfer site, an area bears in search of a free meal have been known to frequent in the past.
"It's part of a pilot program that we hope will lead to a borough-wide program. It's really a step in the right direction," Skibo said.
With so many organizations and individuals all working together, Skibo said she believes the results this year will be greater than if everyone worked on this issue individually as in the past.
"I think it'll add up to something that is greater than the sum of its parts," she said.
For more information on bear awareness events, contact Skibo at 907-240-0539 or go to www.alaskabears.alaska.gov.