Out-the-road 'bear-glars' create a different set of issues for residents

Few fear the animals, but precautions taken to protect homes, pets

Posted: Monday, July 03, 2006

Burglars aren't a big concern 17 miles out the road from downtown Juneau.

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But some people in the neighborhood talk about "bear-glars."

"I don't believe in the phrase 'problem bear,'" said Tom Baxter. But in the six years he has lived on Andreanoff Drive, amid the lush forest on the inland side of Glacier Highway, the bear-glars, he said, have needed some watching. The door to the porch at his home has a sheet of plywood at the base, where a bear some years ago damaged it through the cat door.

Recently there has been one bear, 2 or 3 years old, with a distinctive brown patch near its rear that has made himself known and needed chasing off. He first saw the bear on June 11, but he has heard from neighbors about it since.

"We're not too much into everyone's business, but we talk about bears," said Cindy Long. She worries that her cat, Tweeters, follows the bear when it's around.

"Today is the first day he's frightened me," Baxter said last week. When he scared it off from his porch, about six or seven feet away, the bear turned and left slowly as if it wasn't all that scared, he said.

It isn't a matter of garbage, Baxter said. The garbage is where the bears can't get into it. They have learned not to put bird feeders into the trees and, if the bears ever get at the hummingbird feeder dangling from the roof, that will go too.

"We all kind of grew up with bears," said Bob Millard on another part of Andreanoff Drive. "I had a bear break into my cabin at Funter Bay."

On Andreanoff, about 10 years ago, the Millards kept their garbage under the house "and the bears still got in it."

They didn't need a law to learn to keep garbage away from bears, he said. They had a rule at the house that whoever left the garbage where a bear could get at it would have to clean up the mess later.

He recalled that his wife, Melody Millard, left a bag of garbage on the porch for no more than five minutes, distracted by something else she needed to do, when a bear came up and snatched it. She picked up their son's baseball and drilled the animal with a strike between the eyes. That bear dropped the garbage and left.

"I haven't really seen any bears this spring," Millard said, noting his family's solution to the bear problem. He has strung an electric fence around his property. "You know it when you feel it," he said of the jolt it gives.

The fence protects his house and garden, but he has apple trees outside the perimeter that bears have been known to harvest, he said.

"It was either kill them or put the fence up," Millard said. "I really didn't want to kill them."

Juneau police have killed one bear this year - a black bear on June 17 in the Switzer Village Mobile Home Park, a neighborhood described by Neil Barten, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as "a smorgasbord for bears" because it's harder to secure trash for people who live in mobile homes.

Juneau resident Alan Cleveland questioned why black bears would need to be shot. "I'm not an animal rights (advocate)," he said, adding that he hunts bears. He knows people who have been mauled by bears, but always brown bears, which are larger and more aggressive.

A black bear, he said, "is a big raccoon." He questions why people seem to call the police when they see them.

Ryan Scott, assistant area wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said the office responded to the incident. "We don't have any qualms with the way police handled it," he said.

Baxter said there isn't any reason to call police about bears in his neighborhood - at least not for bears hanging around his home.

He keeps chickens, but neither the birds nor their feed attracts bears. The bear stole some eggs recently, but Baxter blames himself for leaving the door to their pen open. The bigger threat to the chickens comes from the hawks.

Aside from the distance of the Mile 17 neighborhood, "they were here first," he said. Barten is good about responding to problems that he has, though.

"I think 99.9 percent of the problem is human caused," he said. "Bears are lazy creatures."

People let the kids know there are bears around and people watch for them, he said.

"In Federal Way, Wash., I worried more about the people than I do (here) about the bears," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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