Story last updated at 3:31 PM on Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Officers plan to get tougher on wildlife feeders



By Ben Stuart
Staff Writer

On the heels of a new city ordinance designed to curb Homer’s growing garbage bear problem, state enforcement officers plan to step up enforcement of the state wildlife feeding law.

So far this year, two black bears have broken into cabins outside city limits, presumably looking for food.

Neither the bears nor humans involved were harmed, but at least one of the incidents pointed to a bear that viewed people as a source of food, said Homer Chief of Police Mark Robl.

“It seemed the bear was habituated to people and had learned how to sneak into cabins and look for food,” he said.

Thomas McDonough, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer said the incident followed a pattern. The owners of the cabin didn’t leave anything out for the bear, but the bear came looking anyway, McDonough said.

“It’s another example that someone can do everything right, but if other people in the neighborhood don’t take those steps, a food conditioned bear not finding the attractants could start tearing up (a cabin).”

The state wildlife feeding law carries with it a $110 bailable ticket for intentional or unintentional feeding of wildlife.

The Alaska wildlife feeding law states “No person may intentionally feed a moose, bear, wolf, fox, coyote or wolverine, or negligently leave human or pet food or garbage in a manner that attracts these animals.”

Killing an animal that is attracted to the property by garbage or pet food also is illegal under state law.

“Initially we took an approach to educate people about the regulation instead of citing them, to be reasonable,” McDonough said. “But there has been an adequate amount of time to know the law. Now it’s being enforced. The city ordinance is just another level. A little stricter than state regulations.”

Last month, the Homer City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to attract bears.

A fine from $250 to $500 can now be levied to offenders who intentionally attract bears to their home. A fine of $50 to $300 could apply to offenders who attract bears unintentionally.

Robl said the police department plans to launch this new ordinance by educating those who are attracting bears.

“It’s the best way with new enforcement,” he said.

“It would be better to head bear-human conflicts off before they happen. “

Under the new city ordinance, a bear attraction nuisance fine can be issued if a resident has more than one-half gallon of any smelly, bear-attracting material on the property like fish carcases or garbage, organic material that has previously attracted a bear to the property, or soiled disposable diapers. It could include bird feeders if they are attracting bears, Robl said.

“But if it’s not attracting bears then it is probably OK,” he said.

The rule also does not include manure or sewage, garbage in a can left out after 4 a.m. on a day scheduled for collection, living or dead flora or fauna indigenous to the property on which it is located or material in a bear-proof can or metal garbage can designed to be lifted by a garbage truck. And the ordinance applies to the owner of the property.

A similar ordinance was passed in Juneau where the police have seen a significant decrease in the number of bear problems.

In 2002, the police received 304 calls of bears in garbage cans and 114 in Dumpsters. After passing the ordinance that requires metal lids for Dumpsters, and cites people who leave garbage out, those numbers dropped to 59 and seven respectively in 2005.

Juneau still has some problems — a bear was shot Saturday after getting into a garbage can in a trailer park — but the numbers have dropped, said area Fish and Game biologist Neil Barton.

He cites limited garbage pickup times, metal lids on dumpsters and stepped up enforcement by local police as the primary reasons the town is having fewer bear problems than in years past.

“As more communities take these actions, it’ll make it an accepted value system and make it less of a hardship,” Barton said.

A group of Homer residents are now looking for ways to make bear-proof trash cans more affordable for residents as well. The cans have been tested extensively in the Lower 48 and have special lids that can only be opened by human hands.

These cans cost around $175, but that figure could be reduced to about $50 with grant money said Homer resident Roberta Highland.

Ben Stuart can be reached at ben.stuart@homernews.com.

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