Bears and Girdwood Garbage
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Girdwood Board of Supervisors’ July meeting featured a lengthy discussion about bear problems, improper garbage storage and what steps can be taken to eliminate or minimize the problem.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, bear activity and poor trash management had been brewing on local social media, prompting the addition to the agenda.
ADF&G Area Biologist, Dave Battle along with Alaska Waste’s (AW) Assistant District Manager Kurt Froening and Account Manager Kevin Manson presented their professional perspectives on the issue rather than advocate for specific solutions like suspending curbside trash service, having a community dumpster, or requiring bear resistant containers at every house.
Battle noted that bear activity varies over the years saying, “Some years Girdwood is a hot spot, and some years it is not. That is kind of common with all of our bear hot spots year to year. I applaud the effort Girdwood is making to address these issues.”
Since Girdwood is situated in prime bear habitat, trash is the number one item that leads to conflicts with humans, Battle said. He emphasized need for people to be responsible with trash storage, and shared the most frequently asked question he hears, does scent draw in bears to a bear-resistant bin?
“Scent will bring them in once or twice,” Battle said. “If they can’t get calories in their belly, then it’s not worth it to them to expend the calories to try to get the food.”
ADF&G has different procedures regarding how it deals with black and brown bears, Battle said. If a brown bear gets into trash, ADF&G is quick to kill it due to public safety concern as brown bears are known to defend food sources from humans. Black bears are given more leeway unless more dangerous behaviors are exhibited, such as defending a food source, which is rare, he said.
Battle said ADF&G has not killed any bears in Girdwood this year. It was trying to trap a brown bear getting into trash earlier in the summer, but the bear disappeared, and traps were removed before Forest Fair.
Battle encouraged bear incidents to be reported online to ADF&G with an electronic report form, which helps to document incidents and create a paper trail.
“Even though it’s a human caused problem,” Battle said,“we also try to address it through education and enforcement. If we have to kill a bear, we certainly want to see somebody get cited.”
Battle explained Alaska law allowing someone to kill a bear in defense of life and property, and that the shooter is responsible for skinning the bear and turning the hide and skull into ADF&G.
“If the person is not willing to take responsibility for it once they pull the trigger,” Battle said,“how big a problem was it in the first place? If it’s truly a problem, something your concerned about like your life, you’re not thinking about that [salvaging the head and hide]. You’re thinking this problem has to end.”
Sometimes Battle can send a salvager to skin the bear. He has a list of salvagers for black bear meat and two people on the list for brown bear meat. Battle also stated to be currently looking for salvagers in the Turnagain Arm region and Girdwood, asking interested parties contact ADF&G.
The discussion then turned to AW’s representatives who were asked about the current availability of bear-proof trash bins.
“We have containers in stock now,” Froening said, “and we’re delivering those out. We have enough to take care of everybody who requested one. The cans we have this year are a much better container.”
Froening explained why AW did not have enough bear carts for everybody last year.
In June 2017, there were two high profile attacks. AW buys bear carts in the spring, knowing how many they need based on history while also factoring in that cans get damaged and that Anchorage population is growing.
Last year’s stock was wiped out days after bear incidents occurred.
“So many requests came in. We could not have anticipated that happening,” Froening said.
The manufacturer’s production of AW bear carts is small, so it is done once a year. Tooling is not setup for continuous production, and inventory is not kept as back up. Froening said it is difficult but not impossible to get more bear-resistant carts after the initial order is placed, and that a large supply was ordered this year.
AW customers must use the company’s carts and cannot purchase their own for service. Froening said the bear-resistant carts bought for customers cost 400 percent more than regular carts.
The discussion’s topic then turned to trash enforcement and the state law against negligent feeding of wildlife. Battle said that a person must see a bear or have a picture of the bear eating trash other than on garbage pick up day. Municipal and state code enforcement is dependent on the community for reporting.
“If you see your neighbor leaving trash out,” Battle said, “and you see bears hanging out by the trash, take a picture with the house in the background so we can identify the location. If it’s a continual thing where they don’t take their trash in and you don’t have a picture of the bear but you do have a picture of their trash, we’ll at least send them a warning letter, and a lot of times that changes behavior. It doesn’t cost any money and it establishes a paper trail.”
Near the close of discussion, Supervisor Christina Hendrickson asked what Whittier Police Department’s (WPD) response to a bear incident would be and who is responsible for documenting as well as communicating the documentation with ADF&G and the Municipality.
WPD Acting Chief Greg Russell said, “If we receive a complaint like you’re describing or a picture of a bear incident, we’ll investigate that and take enforcement action. As far as sharing the information with ADF&G, we do that with bear/human encounters but not just trash.”
Hendrickson replied she would like to see more sharing of information between the agencies to build better cases via documentation and would like further discussion at the Aug. 6 Public Safety Advisory Committee and the Aug. 20 GBOS meeting.
Russell responded that interagency communication simply requires request from the agencies or GBOS.