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Mark? Let's Talk Bruins

Letters / Anchorage Press /August 5, 2005

Mayor Begich, we haven't met, but I'm a big fan of yours. I voted for you when you lost elections and when you squeaked out a win in the last mayoral election. I know you'd never use the "L" word to describe yourself, but I believe you're a pretty progressive guy. I like that. Progressive politicians are such a rarity in Alaska.

It's also clear that you're "wild about Anchorage." Me too. I'm especially wild about the fact that Anchorage is the only major urban center in the U.S. to mix malls and moose, big-box stores and bears, long lines of traffic and nesting loons. Not to mention the wolf packs that prowl our city's edges. To be honest, I'm not so crazy about the malls, box stores, and traffic, but I love being able to juxtapose them against our city's wild critters when describing where I live to long-distance friends or in stories about my adopted homeland. And I do love the perks of living in Anchorage: the abundance of bookstores and coffee shops and places to enjoy the arts, from music to theater to readings.

Though I know you mostly through the local media and what my more political friends tell me, I have no doubt you're a people person. And a problem solver. You want what's best for Anchorage's residents. That's great. Because I think you know that most of your constituency loves parks and trails and wildlife. More to the point of this letter, we love sharing our city with bears. Yeah, I know, there are some people who would just as soon get rid of 'em all, but you're gonna find "antis" anywhere you go.

I don't know how well you know Rick Sinnott, the state's wildlife manager for greater Anchorage. But I'm sure you know his job is a challenging one. In some ways, it's probably tougher than yours is. Imagine trying to be the intermediary between people and large wild animals. I'm also pretty darn sure that you and Rick have talked about bears. If so, I'm sure he's pointed out that no other large city in the world is inhabited by grizzlies or brown bears. As Rick once told a large audience of bear enthusiasts, "Most cities wouldn't stand for it, but here they're accepted. We brag about our bears."

I know I do, and I bet you do too. Though I bet you worry about human-bear conflicts, just as Rick and I do. So, Mark (may I call you Mark, Mr. Mayor? I truly mean no disrespect), here's what I don't understand: why would you hesitate for even a moment to support Rick Sinnott's ideas to lessen Anchorage's bear-human conflicts?

Rick understands these problems better than anyone. He and partner Jesse Coltrane are the ones who have to deal with stubborn and/or ignorant cusses who continue luring bears into garbage. They're the ones who have to kill so-called "problem bears." You think he enjoys doing that stuff? Rick has been trying for years to get Anchorage's political leaders to enact certain changes that will lessen the dangers of food-conditioned bears. He knows, I know, and I'm certain you must know, being the intelligent guy that you are, that the real problem isn't bears, it's humans acting badly.

We're the ones who are supposed to know better. Who can blame a bear for seeking out easy meals? They lead pretty tough lives, believe it or not. When easy-to-find food presents itself, what do we humans expect them to do but take advantage? They're curious, intelligent, adaptable critters, which are some of the reasons they fascinate us so.

Being both the mayor and a widely acknowledged (and self-proclaimed) problem solver, you have the ability - and position - to get local trash-collection companies to rearrange their pickup schedules so that people are less likely to leave their garbage out overnight. You can also get the municipality to enforce the city law prohibiting residents from leaving garbage out overnight. Both are doable.

It's not like you to pass the buck. To say this problem is Fish and Game's is disingenuous. Frankly it's wrong and arguably dishonest. Certainly Fish and Game is part of the solution, but so is the city. Your administration sets the example.

I'd bet that Rick, like me, was pleased (if not overjoyed) when a more progressive guy like you was elected. Finally, we have a mayor who loves working with people to find solutions. So, Mark, don't think of this as a problem. Think of it as an opportunity, to do something right by Anchorage's residents, both human and ursine.

Bill Sherwonit / Anchorage

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