City gets tough on bear bait

Residents to face fines for garbage

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Juneau residents who leave garbage in the path of bears will face fines under an ordinance approved by the Juneau Assembly on Monday. But most people with bird feeders won't be penalized.

The new ordinance takes effect in 30 days and makes it a misdemeanor to attract bears. Improperly storing waste would be an infraction, similar to a parking ticket, under city code. The ordinance implements recommendations from the Mayor's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee.

People can avoid penalties by placing garbage cans outside after 4 a.m. on the morning of pickup, keeping garbage inside a house or garage, or putting garbage in a bear-resistant container or in the landfill. Garbage cans need to be labeled with the owner's address, but a name is not required. A bear-resistant container would prevent access by a person "using neither hands nor tools," according to the ordinance.

During public testimony, several people objected to proposed restrictions on bird feeders. Andy Grossman said banning bird feeders would make it harder to enforce the ordinance because people would have contempt for the effort.

"To prevent the killing of bears is something we have to do. But I have concerns about the bird food issue. It's a distraction from the real issue, which is management of garbage," he said.

Billie Jo Secrist said people who feed birds also care about wildlife and bears.

"Why are bird feeders misdemeanors when the issue is about garbage? All of a sudden it has become bird-feeder bears. There's an inequity there," she said.

State Department of Fish and Game biologist Neil Barten said bird feeders do attract bears, and some sort of enforcement mechanism is needed. He said education might be one way to get at the issue.

"Next to putting bacon on your doorstep, bird feeders are killers," he said.

Assembly members removed wording that would have banned birdseed, although authorities still will have enforcement powers.

"It allows you to address problem bird feeders, but it doesn't disallow bird feeders across the board," Assembly member Cathy Muoz said.

Attracting a bear could bring a $100 fine for the first violation and $250 for the second violation. If someone attracts a bear on purpose, the first violation would be $250, the second would be $500. A person who improperly stores waste would face a $25 first-time fine, with a second violation costing $50. Unauthorized use of a garbage container would cost an offender $50.

If someone is violating the ordinance, Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said officials probably will start by issuing a warning. And the ordinance requires containers to be bear-resistant, not bear-proof, he said.

"If people are making some effort, I'd be surprised if they were cited for it," he said.

Mayor Sally Smith and Assembly member Dale Anderson were absent from the meeting, and Don Etheridge was the sole no vote on the ordinance. Etheridge said people who work a graveyard shift won't be home to put out their garbage after 4 a.m. And building bear-resistant containers could be costly, he said.

"What about the guy who goes to work at midnight? I don't think all the questions were answered that should have been," he said.

Urban Bear Committee Chairman Mark Farmer said he was happy with the new ordinance. The committee will meet next week to discuss a public education campaign and to come up with several designs for low-cost, bear-resistant containers to share with the public, he said.

"There are so many things people can do on an individual level," he said. "The problem is not going to go away overnight, but this is a huge step in the right direction."

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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