The city's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee can go back to work under an order from Juneau Mayor Sally Smith today. The change comes as community members express worries about children chasing bears in the Lemon Creek area.
Mayor Sally Smith said she is issuing an edict calling the committee back, and will announce the change at the Juneau Assembly's next meeting. She earlier planned to make an announcement at a public meeting to make it official, but was not able to attend the Assembly's last two meetings because of a bad cold.
"I don't see any reason why they can't meet," she said. "I thought it would be a simple thing but then I was sick, and then sick again."
Mark Farmer, the chairman of the city's Urban Bear Committee who has been tracking bears as part of an "Urban Bear Patrol," said kids chasing bears in Lemon Creek is a recipe for disaster. The interactions are part of the reason the committee is needed, he said.
"It's gone from an environmental and animal rights issue to a public safety issue," he said.
In one example, police officers issued a warning to two boys who were chasing a bear in Gruening Park near Switzer Creek at 12:25 p.m. Monday, according to police reports. Police are increasing patrols in the area as state Department of Fish and Game staffers are planning to trap bears in the neighborhood.
Police received 68 bear calls between Aug. 18 and Aug. 24, according to records. Of that total, 25 were from the Lemon Creek area.
Kevin Stoddard, who lives on Lemon Creek Road, said he told children who were chasing bears in his neighborhood a couple of days ago to stop.
"I told them to knock it off. They said they were chasing it into the woods," he said.
Stoddard said he stores his garbage in his garage and hauls it to the landfill himself to keep animals and birds away. Bear activity has increased the past three years in the area because of strong chum salmon returns, he said.
In addition to fish-filled streams, the Lemon Creek area abuts a bear-friendly, brush-covered hillside. The berry crop isn't good this year and neighborhood garbage is a draw, state Fish and Game wildlife biologist Neil Barten said.
"It's worse than other parts of town because of behavior of people around bears," he said. "It's silly and dangerous. I was out there the other day with a protection officer and talked to a kid chasing a bear."
Two yearling bears who were just kicked out by their mother seem to be adding to the problem and Barten said Fish and Game will set out a trap today to catch them. But he cautioned that people need to keep their garbage away from the animals.
"Ultimately the energy and effort need to be put into educating people, not taking care of bears," he said. "Nobody should have their garbage outside if they have a garage."
Juneau Police Capt. Tom Porter said he has asked patrol officers and a community service officer who handles litter enforcement to visit the area more often. And he urged parents to keep their children from following or chasing bears.
"We'd strongly encourage adults to strongly discourage that sort of thing with kids. People need to be reminded that those are wild animals. Tormenting them is against the law and unsafe. Leave them alone and let them move out of the area," he said.
The mayor disbanded the bear committee after it finished work on an ordinance designed to crack down on garbage problems and protect bears. A city ordinance that went into effect this summer requires Juneau residents to store their garbage inside until 4 a.m. on the morning of pickup unless it is in a bear-resistant container.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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