Sparing garbage bears

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

As Juneau bear expert and state biologist Neil Barten explains, in most cases a bear in someone's garbage is not a public safety issue.

Thus, the city has made the right decision in changing its garbage bear policy. Much of the public perceived the former policy as one in which police forced the issue too often and too quickly.

Modern law enforcement techniques weigh the consequences of action vs. no action. The city and the police department now have acknowledged the potential benefits of no action.

Yes, it can be unnerving to have a bear in your back yard. But bears most often come in search of food. They have keen senses of smell. They usually won't stay long if their nose tells them they are wasting their time.

The mere presence of a bear in a back yard often does not require police intervention. If a bear is attracted by a food source, specifically an unsecured can of garbage, there probably still is no need for police intervention - except to issue a citation to the garbage can owner.

When police are called, the city has decided that bear-garbage can encounters may run their course. People and pets will be directed by officers to stay indoors. The carnival atmosphere will not materialize. The bear will be less likely to become aggressive.

Spurred by public reaction to the deaths last week of a mother bear and her cub, the city has adopted a better approach. It was the right thing to do. We probably have not seen the last garbage bear death, but the new policy should keep the death toll down.

Our thanks go to City Manager Dave Palmer, Police Chief Mel Personett and Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee Chairman Mark Farmer for bringing about positive change.

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