Alaska editorial: A friendly reminder, we live in bear country

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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If local residents weren't convinced they live in bear country before this summer, they should be now. We should all know by now, too, that bears don't always pass by invisibly, or naturally shy away from populated areas.

Grizzly bears, for whatever reason, have decided to show themselves - and get themselves killed - in greater number this year than any in recent memory.

People and houses don't attract bears, but they don't necessarily scare them a great deal, either, especially if there is an easy prey around - be it livestock or dog food. Six bears have been killed locally already this spring. Not that the population can't obviously handle a little thinning, but knowing of six kills should make us all wonder how many additional sightings - or kills - we're not hearing about. This is not a good trend or something any of us should desire to see increase, for the good of the bears or the town.

The Alaska State Office of the National Audubon Society designed a publication called Living in Harmony with Bears that we have quoted here before and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game uses excerpts on its Web site. That's because the folks at Audubon did a good job of rolling a lot of common sense into one little publication.

As we keep hearing about these bear problems, one particular line keeps coming back to mind, and it's a line we've repeated here before. "Preventing bear problems is everyone's responsibility. Work within your neighborhood and community to encourage others to manage their garbage, dog food, birdseed - anything that might attract a bear. Encourage your neighbors not to put out garbage for pickup the night before. If there is a bear in the neighborhood, let people know. Work together to protect your neighborhood and to conserve bears."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

The shooting of bears in defense of life and property is going to happen in an Alaska community that is blessed to be in the middle of bear country. But DLP shootings are supposed to be last-resort measures. We like knowing that we live in a wild place, but we don't want to know we're a community that attracts bears by virtue of being sloppy.

The law reads that if a bear has been attracted to your home by improperly stored food or garbage it cannot be legally killed even if you have a hunting license and it's bear season. Before killing a bear in defense of life and property we are supposed to do everything else we can to protect ourselves and to protect our neighbors and see that the bears go back to hunting and eating in the wild spaces they were born to inhabit.

At least six grizzly bears have been killed in Fairbanks already this season. They're not hanging around town just because there are people and houses here. Something else is attracting them and keeping them here. And it can't be all the bears' fault.

That is something we should all be aware of and something we as a community can work together on to protect our neighborhoods and to conserve bears.

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