Girdwood Bear Aware Community Group Forms
By Mike Edgington
Two weeks after the first winter storm of the season, with the gentle sound of Alyeska snowmaking purring across the valley, most of Girdwood’s residents are focused on winter activities. On the town’s social media pages, the posts seeking seasonal housing and skis for sale are punctuated with the latest reports of black bear sightings.
Shouldn’t bears be hibernating by mid-November when snow is on the ground? While temperature and day length play a factor when bears hibernate, in Alaska they usually start to den when high-calorific food becomes scarce according to Research Biologist, Sean Farley.
The late-season social media attention seems a fitting end to the 2018 bear season. Girdwood is nestled in prime bear habitat, and a relatively late salmon run saw increased sightings of black bear around the town’s dense housing during June and July. At a lively and well attended July meeting of the Girdwood Board of Supervisors, several residents described contacts with problem black and brown bears around the town. Many residents complained about unsecured trash attracting bears, especially at the growing number of short-term rental properties.
During the town meeting, Dave Battle, wildlife biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), stated that almost all cases of problem bears in residential areas start with the bears getting into unsecured trash and identifying it as an easy food source – a process called food conditioning.
Battle described their policy of euthanizing any brown bears that become food conditioned as that species tends to be protective of food sources. Black bears are not usually euthanized based on food conditioning alone, but only when combined with other aggressive actions such as breaking into buildings. ADF&G killed 6 bears in Girdwood during 2018, about one sixth of the 37 dispatched across the entire Municipality of Anchorage.
Battle noted that reports of troublesome bears have increased across more populated parts of the state. It isn’t clear if that increase reflects a greater number of bear-human conflicts or just more awareness through home security cameras, social media reports and a heightened sensitivity after several fatal encounters during 2017 and 2018.
In response to concerns during the 2018 bear season, local resident Alayna DuPont has formed Girdwood Bear Aware. DuPont explained, “There seems to be a real desire from folks to see something done to improve how we respond to bears here in Girdwood. Our community group has a mission to reduce human/bear conflict through education, cooperation and active management initiatives in the community of Girdwood and surrounding area.”
DuPont identified three areas of focus for Girdwood Bear Aware. The most important is to help educate Girdwood’s many visitors and new residents about responsible practices while living amongst bears. The group also intends to develop Girdwood-specific resources and provide a contact point for questions from both residents and state and local governments. Finally, the Bear Aware group has started to work with local waste management businesses and local government to advocate for best practices in trash handling, for example, to require all trash be secured in bear-resistant containers.
“We are seeing repeat problems both with commercial dumpsters and at private residences where bears have access to garbage over and over again” Dupont said. “Responsible garbage management should be more than just a good idea. We need enforceable measures with regards to properly secured garbage here in Girdwood.”
For more information about Girdwood Bear Aware, please email email@example.com.