Summer garbage drawing bears into downtown

Gastineau Ave. bruin may be glacier bear

Posted: Wednesday, June 07, 2000

Garbage plus bears equals trouble.

That summer equation is proving true again, as warm weather wafts odors of salmon heads, teriyaki jerky wrappers and other refuse from Juneau's garbage cans and Dumpsters toward the underbrush -- and bears respond.

``Downtown backs up to A-1 bear habitat,'' said Polly Hessing, assistant area biologist with the state department of Fish and Game.

``It isn't unusual for bears to come out in the morning or evening -- when they're trying to avoid people, or when they're looking for fresh garbage,'' Hessing said.

One or two bears are roaming the streets bordering Gold Creek Valley. One has been seen in the neighborhood above Evergreen Cemetery, and it may or may not be the same bear spotted in the Gastineau Avenue area. The two areas are only about a mile apart, if one skirts Cope Park and sticks to the shadows.

Some residents in the Gastineau area described the bear as ``very light.'' It could be an example of the rare ``blue'' or ``glacier'' phase of the black bear, Hessing said.

Marjorie Hamburger, a Gastineau Avenue resident, first saw the bear through her kitchen window about a week and a half ago.

``My daughter saw it, and, because of its color, we thought it was a dog. Then it turned around, and we knew,'' Hamburger said. ``It's the oddest color, like a blonde whose hair has been artificially streaked lighter.''

Hamburger has seen the bear eating the garbage of what she calls ``errant neighbors'' and is concerned it might have to be destroyed.

``I don't want it killed,'' she said firmly.

Another neighbor tried to scare the bear away from garbage cans Monday with his car, she added.

The light-colored bear, said to be small, has been sighted along Gastineau at 8 p.m. Friday, 5-6 p.m. Sunday, and about 6 a.m. Monday (trash collection day on that street). A ``blondish or tan'' black bear was spotted about 11 a.m. Tuesday at Fourth and Harris, near Gastineau. Hessing's boss, biologist Neil Barten, went out to check.

``There had been a bear eating garbage under a staircase. It dragged a bag out of a can,'' Barten said. ``Right next to there was a 10-pound bag of potatoes lying in a pan (at a residence). That's legal, but it isn't smart.''

Neither biologist has seen these bears themselves. They hope that residents will take precautions to keep them from becoming a nuisance.

``We only have 40 miles of road to deal with to relocate bears; that's a day's walk for a small bear,'' Hessing said. ``We can't just kill all the bears that come to town, because more will come in to take that space. It's really frustrating to us.''

Fish and Game has contacted residents and businesses that might have been inadvertently feeding bears garbage, and it's up to the populace to be scrupulously careful, she said. The agency is also working with city staff to get residents to comply with local garbage laws.

Hessing and Barten had no plans to move any bears as of Tuesday. ``We just want to keep people from feeding them,'' Hessing said.

In 1987, a ``glacier'' bear that developed a fondness for Gastineau Avenue garbage was captured. Officials shipped it to the Anchorage Zoo, where it was named ``Taku'' and went on display.

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