Urban bear advocate and photographer Pat Costello has resigned from the mayor's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee, citing inaction by city government.
In a letter to Mayor Sally Smith, Costello wrote he was disappointed with Smith's "inability to elevate above small-town politics to address this health and safety issue for Juneau residents and our ursine neighbors."
"We're at a point where Juneau should be in full gear in preparation for next summer," he said in an interview. "When I found out bear issues weren't even mentioned at the (Juneau Assembly) retreat, it was unfortunate and I thought inexcusable."
Smith said she was disappointed with Costello's decision. A meeting is scheduled this week with staff members to plan what the city needs to do to be ready for the next bear season, she said.
"I believe the city has moved forward," she said. "I am disappointed Pat decided to resign and (I am) appreciative of all the work he has done."
Politics hasn't played as big a role in the bear committee as some people have suggested, Smith said. One of the problems with the panel is that its members have been good at telling the city about what is wrong, but not what is right, she said.
"I didn't hear much they said that was good," Smith said.
The bear issue isn't the only thing on the city's radar, Smith said. During the Nov. 1 Assembly retreat, none of the members chairing committees mentioned the bear issue, she added.
"I think it was an example of the issues before everyone, rather than a way to slight the issue," she said.
Bear Committee Chairman Mark Farmer said it's hard to say whether the panel's work has made a difference. An ordinance the Assembly approved last summer intended to keep garbage away from bears doesn't tell people exactly what is required of them, he said. Probably the biggest step was getting bear-proof garbage cans downtown, he said.
"I'm as much at fault as anybody," he said. "The only reason this happened was because of politics and we haven't achieved a lot because of politics as well."
Costello suggested the city examine why the garbage ordinance wasn't enforced and make corrections so it will be next summer. The city needs to make sure Dumpsters don't have plastic lids and should improve public education efforts, he said.
Smith said she expects bears will need to be destroyed next summer if Juneau sees the level of bear activity it saw last summer. She doesn't know why an informational pamphlet about bears and garbage wasn't sent out last summer as planned. It will be a good thing to send out this spring, she said.
Costello said he will continue to be involved in bear issues through the Urban Bear Patrol, an independent group that has monitored bear activity, and his Web site, juneaubears.com.
"The bottom line is that I hope my resignation compels the city to action. This whole thing is about finding a solution to the garbage-bear conflicts in this community and anything I can do to move the city forward on that account, I'm going to do," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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