With this year's 1,000 bear-related calls to the city's police department to mull over, an ad hoc bear committee held its inaugural meeting last week to begin formulating ways to take care of the city's persistent bear problem.
"This has been one of the most prolific years for bear calls," said state Fish and Game area biologist Neil Barten, a committee member. "The committee is going to try to formulate a battle plan and move forward on this."
The panel was named recently by Mayor Sally Smith and includes Barten, photojournalist Mark Farmer, city environmental zoning officer Dan Garcia, Police Chief Mel Personett, Arrow Refuse manager Glenn Thompson, Juneau Assembly member Marc Wheeler and Juneau photographer Pat Costello.
"The committee members bring many different perspectives to the problem," said Farmer, the chairman.
Before bowing out of the mayor's race and throwing his support to Smith last fall, Farmer proposed a garbage-bear control plan for the city that included compulsory use of bear-proof garbage containers and hiring a year-round, state-trained bear-control community service officer.
He also proposed bear-proof collection points for each residential block in high-density areas; property tax credits to property owners and developers to offset the cost of containers and secure collection points; and increased fines for noncompliance.
Chief Personett expressed his concern about the operational and fiscal weight the police department has to carry because of the bears. "We're the people saddled with the failures with the trash problem," he said.
"Police officers are having to deal with a real public safety issue which concerns very real danger to residents," Personett said. "In addition, when officers respond to bear calls, they're not available to provide other, much-needed services."
The committee spent its first session formulating general strategies, Farmer said. "Increasing education (about bears and garbage) is important: People need to learn to be responsible for their own conduct."
Among other ideas discussed were relocation and harvest of bears, fines for violators of the city garbage ordinance, and even a new ordinance that would be presented to the assembly for consideration, Farmer said. "We're looking at everything."
The committee will have more work sessions, and it plans to have a public hearing in January before presenting recommendations to the assembly in February.
Farmer said the committee is still looking at how much the bear problem costs the city and, correspondingly, how much solving the problem will cost.
The committee's next meeting is Dec. 21 in the City Hall conference room.