We still haven't solved the bear problem

My turn

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2001

Some knuckleheads are flagrant in their steadfast continuation of being known bear attraction causes even going so far as to bait bears.

The better part of a year has passed and after all the politics, behind-the-scene deals, back slapping and personality conflicts, I'm left asking if we really are doing any better dealing with the problem of humans, garbage and bears?

Even after the passage of the urban bear ordinance and the no-kill-unless-a-human-is-threatened directive, I can't say that we are. So where's the major malfunction?

I say look no further than to ourselves and City Hall.

Sure the ordinance helps and some folks are trying their best to comply (without the benefit of cogent instructions from the CBJ) but by and large our city is overflowing with garbage and the bears are having their way with it. Many folks are not getting the message and are poorly storing their waste. Some knuckleheads are flagrant in their steadfast continuation of being known bear attraction causes - even going so far as to bait bears.

Lurking about the back streets, stairs and alleys of downtown Juneau over the past week, Pat Costello and I had multiple close encounters with black bears ranging from a 30-pound cub eating diapers to a 250-pound hissing punk of bear raiding nearly every garbage container on South Franklin. I'm struck with the impression that we haven't changed a thing. After it gets dark, it is the bears' turf and since Gastineau Avenue is closed, the bears have made it an expressway to snacktown. Trailerparks in Lemon Creek and the Valley and high-density housing areas throughout the city are no better off.

Urban bears are not the biggest problem confronting us as a community but it is a fixable one. My hat is off to Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon for pushing the ordinance through and to CBJ Manager Dave Palmer and JPD Chief Mel Personett for instituting the new rules of engagement after the needless killing of a sow and her cub earlier this season. Unfortunately the directive goes too far as bears in urban areas need to be quickly engaged and "spanked." Bears have to know that they are not welcome around our living areas. Once again, I come back to my original idea of getting the cops out of the job and have a dedicated bear patrol (I suspect a dedicated volunteer group will emerge soon to tackle this).

Mayor Smith obviously sees her debt to me paid for swinging the vote in her favor and dismissed myself and the bear committee without any prior direction or lasting interest. She is either ignorant of or doesn't care that both bears and myself share a deep albeit narrow constituency.

Face it, bears decided who currently occupies the mayor's office. Mayor Smith also dismissed out of hand my and the committee's recommendation for an intensive public affairs-education campaign, putting bear-proof city garbage containers on South Franklin and to consider giving home owners and developers a tax credit for installing bear-resistant enclosures. Needless to say, myself and several others from the committee feel like we were paid lip service to at best and were used and betrayed at worse. The mayor needs to take the bear by the ears and lead!

The CBJ needs to quickly make every effort to give at least the perception of enforcement and concern. If it doesn't happen soon another season will pass and more young bears will have become conditioned to garbage and habituated to humans.

I tried to play it straight, to work within the system and to "do the right thing" as I'm so often told by power players here in our fair borough.


The current urban bear situation in many ways is my responsibility and I'm in this fight until we get a workable solution. Mayor Smith doesn't want me on the inside, fine with me. I'm now back to my most dear and comfortable role: Political gadfly and slightly rabid societal watchdog.

Interested citizens should voice their concerns to the mayor and assembly via e-mail to: Sally_Smith@ci.juneau.ak.us. Please forward copies of your letters the Empire at streed@juneauempire.com and to JuneauBears.com. The louder the noise we make the sooner the problem will be dealt with.

Farmer served as chairman of the Mayor's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee.

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