In a policy shift, the city of Juneau will only kill bears in the event of an immediate threat to people.
The directive comes from City Manager Dave Palmer after a mother black bear and her cub were killed after entering a residential neighborhood last week.
Under the new policy spelled out by Juneau Police Chief Mel Personett, the police department will send one officer to respond to a bear call. The officer will direct people and pets inside until the bear leaves the area, and will issue a citation if the city's new garbage ordinance has been violated.
The city will discontinue the use of seal bombs and other noisemakers to chase bears, according to the department. If a bear needs to be destroyed, a shift commander must approve the action.
Palmer said the new procedures may inconvenience people if police need to close streets or restrict access to areas, but the changes should hopefully de-escalate interactions between bears and people.
"We started the summer by having to kill two bears. That's not a trend I want to keep up for the summer," he said.
Personett said each call will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but the new policy should result in fewer bears killed.
"We'll be there primarily to protect human life. We're not going to be involved in chasing bears into the wild, but we'll make sure there are no dangerous interfaces between people and bears," he said.
The new policy sets high standards, Personett said.
"In past years, we've worked with people not only to protect life, but property. We've reached the point in the community where bears are more important than some of the property is," he said.
A new city ordinance that tightens penalties for people who leave trash in the path of bears went into effect last week.
In most cases, a bear in someone's garbage is not a public safety concern, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Neil Barten.
"The best thing to do if a bear is in someone's yard is to think about why it's there and take care of (the problem)," he said.
Mark Farmer, chairman of the city's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee, said there are very few instances in Juneau where people have been threatened by animals. He said he's happy with the change.
"It's exactly the policy we wanted to have," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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