City trash rules credited with helping stem bear problems this summer

A brown bear was recently reported in the Lemon Creek area

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2004

Brown bears are being spotted more often in Juneau this year, but bears in general are causing less trouble, said Polly Hessing, assistant wildlife biologist for the state.

"I think we are finally starting to see restrictions (on handling of trash) take effect," she said. But she doesn't know if bears will pose more of a nuisance before they head into hibernation.

Hessing said it could be that people aren't calling the Alaska Department of Fish and Game every time they see a bear, having learned there won't be officers to chase them away.

"Even if there was no trash in town, there would still be bears," she said. "We have an incredibly good habitat."

Problems develop when the bears get into trash, Hessing said. Juneau's city code doesn't allow trash to be put out until 4 a.m. on the day that it is collected. When garbage isn't out for collection, people are required to keep it in a bear-resistant enclosure if they don't have a secure container. Beginning this year, people are required to secure lids so that containers don't pop off if tipped over.

Hessing said it helps that the city is enforcing the rules by ticketing offenders.

In July 2003, police shot a bear that was getting into garbage and posing a threat to people in the Lemon Creek area.

The sightings of brown bears this year have been unusual because so few are seen around Juneau, Hessing said.

Earlier this month, police were summoned to the Mendenhall Glacier because a large crowd was watching a brown bear and a cub, judged to be at least a couple of years old. Forest rangers in the area also temporarily closed the Moraine Ecology Trail because of bear traffic.

There have been more recent reports of other brown bear sightings elsewhere, such as the Lemon Creek area, but Hessing said she can't be certain it's the same bear.

"We didn't have a problem with the bears at the glacier," Hessing said. "We had a problem with the people."

She said this has been a strong berry season and there have been fish so nature is providing them plenty to eat.

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