Anchorage Assembly to consider 'bear cop'

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage Assembly will consider a proposal to hire a specialist to track bears in the city.

The proposal from Eagle River Assembly member Bill Starr calls for the city to hire a seasonal wildlife specialist to track bear sightings. The person hired would try to harass the animals out of town. If necessary, the person would also have the power to relocate or kill bears.

Starr said killing bears would be a last resort.

"The issue is the defense of life and property. You know, we need to take responsibility for our public spaces and defend our own," he said.

The plan comes after three people were mauled by bears in the city last summer.

A public hearing is planned today on the plan, which also calls for a safety education program, enforcing garbage rules to keep people from enticing bears into neighborhoods, and a policy for dealing with bear complaints.

State wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott says while some of that sound good, the part about a city employee handling or shootings bears doesn't.

He said that is normally the Department of Fish and Game's job.

East Anchorage Assembly member Mike Gutierrez said he is working on an alternative to Starr's plan that he hopes to propose as early as next month.

Gutierrez said his plan could include having the city parks department work with the state to determine when trails are growing dangerous. In parts of Anchorage, it might make sense to temporarily close a trail to prevent attacks, he said.

But Starr's proposal could get a vote as early as today, even though the assembly has a busy agenda.

If approved, it would be up to the city manager to implement it.

Deputy City Manager Heather Handyside says she has questions about Starr's plan to have a city employee handle bears. But she said the mayor's team is working to clarify exactly how it responds to, and prevents, bear threats.

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