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Citations grow as garbage feeds Alaskan bears


June 16, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A growing number of Anchorage homeowners are finding themselves slapped with $110 citations for luring bears with their garbage.

As of Thursday, state biologists and Anchorage police had written about 15 citations this year, including one "pending" in Ocean View because the person fled in his truck before the ticket was handed to him, authorities said.

The fines are coming in bunches. Since last Friday, biologist Rick Sinnott of the state Department of Fish and Game has issued at least nine tickets.




Officials on Elmendorf Air Force Base also have issued several so far this year, according to Sinnott.

"I think we could write 25 a day the way it's been going," Sinnott said Thursday afternoon. "But we can't work 24 hours a day. It's as bad as it was last year and the year before. People are not getting it."

Some residents, despite owning garages, still leave their plastic trash barrels outside the house where a bear could easily open them, he said. A few people who have been cited once continue to leave trash out.

For every ticket written, someone's garbage has been spilled, eaten or otherwise disturbed by a bear, and the proof - paw prints, bear scat, a neighbor's photograph - is readily available, according to Sinnott.

Bird seed and other pet foods attract the bruins, too. But they were only recently added to the new state law making it an offense to negligently attract bears. The recent additions take effect July 1, and authorities this year are not citing cases where pet food draws a bear, they said.

Sinnott said they also would not cite people whose garbage attracts a bear on the day it's scheduled to be picked up.

The Anchorage Bowl, including the wildland rim of Chugach State Park, supports an estimated 50 to 60 black bears. Surprisingly perhaps, fewer than 10 appear to be currently active in city neighborhoods that border the parks, greenbelts and wildlife refuges where the bears retreat after stuffing themselves on copious amounts of tasty trash, according to Sinnott.

"This town could support hundreds more bears on the garbage we put out," he said. "It's insane. They're satiated. It's amazing how much food people throw away. There's food that's not even opened. Corn on the cob seems to be at the top of the bears' list."

In 2004, the first year of the new law, Sinnott and his fellow Anchorage-area wildlife biologist Jesse Coltrane let folks off easy. They wrote just two or three citations. In 2005, they wrote 25.

Coltrane said folks don't realize they're creating a potentially hazardous situation.

"You don't want to bait them right up to your front door, but that's unfortunately what many people around town are doing, setting up their own little private bait stations, right next to the tricycles," Coltrane said.

By June 24 of last year, nine black bears had been killed in defense by residents or the biologists or sent to the research facility in Fairbanks.

This year, two bears have been shot dead - one by a resident who on waking found the bear inside his home - and two have been given the one-way ride to Fairbanks, Sinnott said.

The Municipality of Anchorage has accommodated the issue by delaying the start of garbage pickup by one hour during summer, allowing homeowners to place their trash cans outside by 7:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m.

But Sinnott thinks a lot more education is needed before Anchorage will change.

"Sometimes these things take a generation," he said. "You have to keep hammering on people until they get it. Sometimes it's the kids who (bring about change). We're slowly working through this generation."

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