Juneau residents need to decide what level of garbage enforcement is needed in dealing with urban bears, Police Chief Mel Personett said Friday.
"We have to make a decision as a community to what kind of resources are needed and what the expectation is," Personett said during a city Urban Bear Committee meeting. "The community needs to decide where we want to go with this."
More enforcement will require more of a limited police staff's time, he said.
Police have received more than 1,600 calls that involve bears or litter this year, Personett said. Of about 900 bear calls, 50 percent were reports of bears in trash. Tracking the number of warnings and citations issued has been more difficult, and the department hopes to set up a more detailed reporting system next year, he said.
Glen Kramer, who lives on Threadneedle Street in the Mendenhall Valley, fought a garbage ticket he received over the summer and won a dismissal. But he said the incident was hard on his life, his family and his job. The city needs to do more to educate residents and find solutions that are affordable, he added.
"We don't need to put out ordinances and fine (people) any more. We need to help them," he said.
Tim Miles, who had a bear pound on his basement door this summer, said he supported the bear committee's work. He was mauled by a bear in Oregon, and doesn't want to see anyone hurt in Juneau. Bear-proof Dumpsters are needed, he said.
"We can't continue to ignore it and hope it is going to go away," he said. "I think this can be a real serious issue."
Douglas resident Mary Ellen Frank said the city should be careful about spending time and money documenting the problem when it should be acting. School programs and enforcement, not data crunching, are needed, she said.
Committee member Pat Costello, a photographer who has tracked bear activity through an independent group called the Urban Bear Patrol, said Dumpsters with plastic lids are attracting bears. He said the city should either amend the garbage ordinance or draft a resolution to Arrow Refuse to ask for more metal lids.
"Dumpsters are basically lures. They are really the magnets that are bringing bears in," he said. "We will not get a hand up on this thing until we cap these Dumpsters."
Neil Barten, Juneau area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said homeowners need information about how to build bear-resistant containers. He also suggested the committee work with trailer park owners to keep garbage away from bears.
Committee members suggested the city hire a "bear czar" to coordinate responses to bear problems.
Other people at the meeting suggested putting fish carcasses in the Dredge Lakes area, between Back Loop Road and Mendenhall Lake, or planting blueberry bushes to feed bears. But Barten said it wouldn't solve the problem of garbage attracting bears to neighborhoods.
"There's plenty of food. We just need to keep the attractants away," he said.
Committee chairman Mark Farmer said he planned to summarize the recommendations from the meeting and present them to the Juneau Assembly tonight.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.