Officials seek enforcement of Anchorage garbage rule

Bears rummaging through garbage, birdseed, pet food have become a chronic problem in that city

Posted: Wednesday, May 04, 2005

ANCHORAGE - State game officials want Anchorage to enforce a little-known ordinance that could help keep bears away from homes and streets.

Allowing garbage to be in public view overnight violates municipal law. Rick Sinnott, area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, said the city should enforce the little-known law to help eliminate hundreds of virtual bear feeding stations created the night before "Garbage Day."

Bears rummaging through garbage, birdseed and pet food have become a chronic problem around Anchorage, especially in neighborhoods next to the foothills. Dozens of black bears and a few grizzlies are drawn to residential areas, where they start to associate people with food and sometimes get killed after becoming too bold.

It also increases the chance that somebody could get hurt, Sinnott said.

Juneau had a similar garbage problem and cracked down on homeowners who placed garbage cans where they could be torn apart by marauding bruins.

Attempts to pass a bearproof garbage can ordinance in Anchorage spawned a political uproar in the 1990s.

Sinnott spends the summer with a beeper, rushing with other biologists from one bear episode to another.

Last month, Sinnott was surfing the municipal Web site and spied the law.

"I was doing a search on bears and garbage, and it popped up. I read it, and I thought, 'This is what I've been looking for for 11 years.' ... It was on the books all along."

He contacted city officials, including solid waste manager Robert Hall, who said his sole code enforcement officer spends all of his time tackling major nuisances such as overflowing trash bins. He recommended Sinnott work with the police and municipal attorney's office.

The ban has been a law in Anchorage since at least 1947, according to the city clerk's office. It was unclear whether anyone had ever been fined for violating it.

Enforcing the garbage ordinance can't come a day too soon for Sinnott. Next will be getting people to take down bird feeders.

"We got a call today from someone who had let a bear get into a bird feeder right next to Ravenwood Elementary (in Eagle River)," Sinnott said. "Why don't we just smear peanut butter on the front door of the school? It just boggles the mind."

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