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Trash Fines Pile Up as Bears Pay the Price

17 tickets and more to come:  Nine bruins have been killed just six weeks into season, a five-year high

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / June 25, 2005

The bears are spilling cans. Ravaging bags. Scarfing leftovers.

And Anchorage residents are getting fined.

So far this summer, 17 people have been nailed with a $110 state citation for negligent feeding of bears, and four dozen others may soon receive a city ticket for leaving garbage out before midnight, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"We've essentially received hundreds of calls," said assistant state biologist Jessy Coltrane. "A couple weeks ago, I was logging 30 calls per day. It's the same problem we've had every single year: It's the trash."

Several hungry black bears have been munching refuse in neighborhoods from Eagle River to Muldoon to Girdwood -- despite a state law intended to stop the practice, an old city ordinance revived to help out, and years of posters, bumper stickers and nagging by wildlife managers. And pointed threats last month to start writing tickets.

The number of offending animals is a fraction of the estimated 50 to 60 black bears that live in the Anchorage Bowl. But a single bear working a Muldoon street can hit 40 trash cans in an hour and generate 30 calls, Coltrane said.

"They're baiting bears into these neighborhoods," she said. "It's a public safety issue."

Only six weeks into bear season, nine black bears have been killed by biologists or residents (or sent on a one-way trip to a University of Alaska Fairbanks hibernation study). That's the most black bears killed in Anchorage since 2001, when 11 were shot and one was hit by a vehicle.

Coltrane and state biologist Rick Sinnott issued most of the state tickets in the past two weeks. Only two or three tickets were written all last year.

This month, Sinnott took digital photos of garbage placed at the curb in front of 45 homes in a neighborhood along the Eagle River and took them to the Anchorage Police Department. Each picture showed garbage in front of a specific house, plus a digital time stamp between 10 p.m. and midnight, he said.

Placing garbage in view before midnight of pick-up day violates an old city ordinance, originally intended for beautification. In May, police said they would enforce this law as a way to reduce bear conflicts. Friday afternoon, no one contacted at police headquarters knew whether the residents of the houses had been ticketed.

As soon as the department acts, the biologists said they hoped to gather more evidence."We'll be coming to a neighborhood near you," Coltrane said.

Some of the incidents seem practically insane. Coltrane said she found garbage piled next to three tricycles outside one house. Frequently, the trash sits along streets where children play late into the summer night.

Donna Redding, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management, drove to a popular trail head at Mile 1.1 of Campbell Airstrip Road last Thursday afternoon and discovered a man feeding -- and apparently petting -- a small black bear.

At first she thought it was a big furry Newfoundland dog.

"It was hard to even know what to think," she said. "I just didn't expect to see someone touching a bear out there. I was just speechless. I still am."

Redding confronted the man. "He told me something like, 'I used to have a black bear on a chain and I liked it a lot,' " she said.

A carload of teenagers spooked the animal up a tree. Redding drove back to headquarters and reported it to the agency's rangers.

"I did my (archaeological) survey later, with a little more anxiety than normal," she said.

The bear reports have been spread all over, but the eastern fringe of Muldoon near the wild land of Fort Richardson may be the worst, Coltrane said.

It's two or three blackies that like to cruise in the middle of the night, said Boundary Road resident Nathan Kimmel.

"I've been out at 3 a.m. to have a cigarette, and I think it's a group of people coming up the road," he said. "But it's a bear."

A few weeks ago, a small yearling black bear began tearing open tents in woodsy Centennial Camper Park, north of Boundary near the Glenn Highway. After the animal took over a sloppy barbecue, it was captured by Sinnott and sent to Fairbanks to serve as a subject in a hibernation study. It will later be killed.

Other campers, who were stashing food properly, were angry about the fate of the young bear and the messy campsite that doomed it, said Grand Junction resident Rita Hiller. "This just fries me. You could tell the bear was licking the rocks for an hour and a half. It's the stupid people. It was not the bear's fault." Since then, the campground has been quiet and clean, said staffer Karen Jarrett.

The last bruin visit occurred Sunday, when a large black bear nicknamed "Bubba" sauntered into view. Although the animal didn't bother anyone, Jarrett and another employee herded it back into the forest with a four-wheeler and a few well-placed stones.

"The campers know when they hear me say, 'Get out of here, bear,' " Jarrett said.

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'harra@adn.com.

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