Bears abound despite better care of garbage

Residents taking more measures to secure trash cans

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Juneau's bounty of bears and abundance of bear complaints this summer seem to be due to more bears -- not more garbage.

``I haven't written but one trash citation this year,'' said Juneau Police Officer Jackie Jennings.

Jennings' duty is tracing garbage routes just ahead of collection trucks, making sure residents are securing their trash properly. She has patrolled Juneau's litter habits for three years, and says compliance is improving.

``It's much better this year than it has been in the past. Basically, I would say the problem is more bears,'' she said.

Dan Garcia, environmental zoning officer with the city for the past year, agrees with Jennings.

``I have been out on a lot of calls,'' Garcia said today, ``and when I get there, most of the garbage is picked up. Typically it's dogs and ravens, not bears, who are making the messes.''

But humans, although now part of the solution, are also still part of the problem, said Laurie Sica, city zoning officer from 1996 to 1999.

Despite the city's Garbage Bear program, education efforts, visits to schools, bus signs and public service announcements, some people continue to store garbage outdoors or put it out too early for pickup, attracting bears.

Sica said trailer courts are a problem area because most are close to the woods and have few garages when garbage cans can be stored.

She envisions future city regulations requiring buildings and trailer courts to be designed with safe garbage storage and the ease of access for collection in mind.

``I think (those factors) should be worked into the design process,'' said Sica, now city clerk.

One bear problem area is Starr Hill downtown, where photographer Mark Kelley saw a black bear getting into a trash can apparently put out after pickup at about 2 p.m. Monday. The bear was scared off by a truck honking its horn, flashing its lights, and accelerating in the bear's direction. Kelley then secured the can's cover, but it was back in 10 minutes, ``and easily popped the lid off,'' he said.

Residents who want assistance in getting neighbors to properly deal with their trash can call the Junk Busters Hotline at 586-5274. Leave a detailed message describing the problem and its location, and giving recommendations for resolving the problem. Zoning officer Garcia will look into each report.

Experts point out that bears are attracted by smells for considerable distances. Occasionally rinsing garbage cans with a solution of bleach and boiling water helps. Double-bagging fish heads and similar items and freezing them until collection day is recommended by Fish and Game's area biologist, Neil Barten.

A state biologist tried aversion therapy in the late 1980s, poisoning garbage so it would make bears sick, said Fish and Game's Polly Hessing. The experiment, looking for an alternative to killing bears, was unsuccessful.

There have been two recent peaks of nuisance bear deaths, said Hessing, an assistant area biologist. In 1987, 14 bears were killed -- two by Fish and Game, nine by police. During the second peak, in 1991, 15 bears were killed.

Hessing said bird feeders can also attract bears, and should not be left out between April and October.

``Fish are starting to come into local creeks now, and bears are heading for the creeks. But they are still always looking around for something good to eat,'' she said.

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