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Biologist Ordered to Keep Quiet About Bears

Steve MacDonald / KTUU-TV / July 28, 2005

Anchorage, Alaska - The state's top wildlife biologist in Anchorage has been ordered not to speak out or deal with issues involving bears. Biologist Rick Sinnott has long been critical of the city and some of its residents for improperly handling trash, causing bears to wander into neighborhoods. But Department of Fish and Game commissioner McKie Campbell says a quote by biologist Sinnott in a recent newspaper story was unprofessional.

He's the one who perhaps has spoken out the most about a growing problem in Anchorage. It's a problem that pits city residents against city bears, with the bears nearly always coming out the loser.

For years, area biologist Rick Sinnott has been urging Anchorage residents to keep their trash away from inquisitive bears.

"We have no control over that other than citing the people that let it get into their garbage. If they put their garbage out all night before pickup then that's just a major attraction. The bear can smell that from, I don't know, a quarter-mile away," said Rick Sinnott, area game biologist.

But according to Sinnott's boss, the campaign to keep bears from being tempted by trash may be taking a toll on the biologist.

"Rick has been doing a great job, but he's been increasingly frustrated, and I think that frustration has been showing through in a number of his comments," said Campbell.

Because of his outspoken remarks, Campbell has ordered Sinnott to no longer talk to the media about the bear problem in Anchorage. With an annual operating budget of $7,150 for Anchorage, Campbell says Fish and Game is cutting back on responding to many middle of the night calls about bears roaming city neighborhoods.

"Unfortunately we just are never going to have enough people or enough money to respond on an incident-by-incident basis. We have to deal with the root causes of the problem," said Campbell.

The city says it's ready to look into those root causes.

"We've got lots of people and we have got lots of trash. We want citizens to be aware of what's going on," said Julie Hasquet, spokeswoman for Mayor Begich.

Hasquet says the city is now considering possible solutions to the trash problem.

"Can we adjust trash pick up hours? And if we do, will that help? We're going to look at that. Are there some better containers that could be used? Perhaps. Can we make people use them? We don't know. Maybe we can put some better containers in our parks," said Hasquet.

Hasquet says the city hopes to have some ideas sometime within the next week. But whatever is proposed, the Department of Fish and Game and the city say they'll have to have cooperation from the public to deal with the trash issue.

Campbell says if solutions can be found for the bear problem, then he'll likely allow Sinnott to resume work on bear issues sometime next spring.

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