My Turn: Garbage problem poses risk to people, bears

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2001

Last November the mayor formed the Ad Hoc Bear Committee. Following a summer of non-stop garbage and bear problems, a thousand bear-related calls to Juneau Police, and too many bears shot and killed for their indiscretions, I was encouraged. As a member of the public I was honored to sit on a panel called upon to guide the city to a solution and I took to the task with optimism and energy. Now, just over a year later, I have decided to step down from the committee.

We are no closer to a garbage/bear solution than we were a year ago. That, despite the fact that the Bear Committee has identified many, if not most, of the necessary elements of a bear plan. Trouble is, committee recommendations have largely fallen on deaf ears.

True, a new ordinance was enacted but it's been lightly enforced, if at all. Yes, bear-proof containers popped up all over downtown late in the summer but they weren't placed as a result of the Bear Committee. Their arrival had more to do with a photo of a bear with a McDonald's bag in its mouth and a bit of video showing a crowd of tourists dangerously close to a bear on Decker Way.

Last summer was disappointing. The bears picked up right where they left off the year before. The more active they became, the more glaring it was that nothing was in place to deal with them or the garbage that attracted them.

The Mayors Ad Hoc Bear Committee was disbanded, then reformed. Both actions appear to have roots in an ongoing political-personality clash between the mayor and the committee chairman. Silly stuff. Nothing to do with bears, but apparently one reason the Bear Committee has been ignored.

For me the last straw occurred recently. The Bear Committee held a public meeting and generated another list to offer the Assembly. This one was timed for the Assembly's retreat, a meeting in which the priorities for the mayor and Assembly are set.

Guess what? Bears were not even mentioned at the Retreat! The mayor never brought the subject up, nor did the Assembly member who served as the liaison on the Bear Committee. No other Assembly members raised the issue either. The topic of bears and garbage simply was not discussed.

So I'm done with my work on the bear committee. I will continue to advocate for bears and publicize garbage issues through JuneauBears.com and the Urban Bear Patrol. But I'm through with generating lists that are ignored.

After a summer that featured kids on bikes chasing bears, a bear illegally shot and killed by an arrow, numerous bears hit, killed or wounded by cars, a bear spreading medical waste all over, and on and on you'd think the bear issue would have registered strongly enough in the minds of our mayor and Assembly to at least make it on to the "to do" list.

Several times in recent months people have told me they felt the city would not take notice until someone was injured or killed by a bear. I don't want to believe that. But short of a mauling I'm not sure what exactly will prompt action.

Looks like we've just about made it through this year without serious mishap, but it's not hard to envision next summer unfolding much as the last two. Without a comprehensive plan Juneau faces another strong year for bear activity and many more opportunities for disastrous conflict. It's preventable. Let's hope the mayor, city manager and Assembly do an about-face while there is still time to plan for next summer. I don't believe they need any more recommendations from some committee. I believe they need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

*****

Pat Costello of Juneau is a photographer who operates the JuneauPhotos.com and JuneauBears.com Web sites.



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