Protect bears; enforce the garbage ordinance

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

As a result of the deaths of two bears, the implementation of Juneau's new garbage ordinance could not go unnoticed Wednesday. Early Tuesday, a police officer fatally shot a female bear that was prowling through a Mendenhall Valley neighborhood. Later Tuesday, the bear's cub was found in a tree near where the sow had been slain. Before the day ended, the state Department of Fish and Game euthanized the cub.

When an urban bear is shot, the actions of police officers attract a lot of attention. There often is a widespread sense that alternatives were passed up. Every situation is unique, however, and most of us were not there to assess the dangers. That does not prevent people from voicing strong opinions about what should have happened.

In this case, it appears officers felt they were facing a stubborn bear that posed a threat to dogs, to property and to themselves. Police said the bear climbed a tree and growled at them. There is a pretty good chance that the bear climbed the tree where she knew her cub was. Feeling her cub threatened, she growled. In the darkness, officers did not know the cub was up the tree. The sow looked like an uncooperative troublemaker. The minor tragedy played out step by unfortunate step.

News that the cub had been put to death after a brief, futile search to find a receptive zoo likewise will not be accepted by everyone. The Empire immediately heard from readers saying there must have been alternatives to euthanizing the cub.

One alternative in situations like this is to have police disperse people and pets then give the bear time to leave on its own, keeping watch all the while. With no guaranteed positive outcome, that option is problematical. City officials must ask as well whether extended bear-watching is a good use of police. But if watching a bear tear through someone's garbage for 30 minutes could prevent the death of the bear, that alternative could be considered. Hitting adult bears with tranquilizer darts, loading them up and relocating them could be a full-time job for a couple of people for several months and may not be biologically sound. As for the cub, could it be penned and hand-fed until it was large enough to be released into the forest? Are these alternatives biologically sound?

We want quick solutions. This remains a complicated situation.

As we know, the best practice is to keep garbage secure. Every time police respond to calls about bears prowling in town - and especially when that response results in the death of a bear - officers must determine if the garbage ordinance was violated. Citations - not warnings - then should be issued.

Suggestions that people do not know that garbage is most often the source of the problem, or do not know their obligation to help eliminate garbage-bear opportunities, or do not know that the law has changed are unrealistic.

Give bears a chance. Enforce the law.

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