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Anchorage Works to Curb Bear Danger

Steve MacDonald / KTUU-TV / August 9, 2005

The Municipality of Anchorage is taking steps that it hopes will reduce the number conflicts between people and bears. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has had to kill a dozen bears so far this summer after they routinely raided neighborhood trash cans. The city, with help from Alaska Waste, Anchorage's largest trash collection company, announced some changes they hope reduces the chances bears have to get into trash and into trouble.    

One Hillside neighborhood is also bear country. That blend of city life and wildlife is part of Anchorage's charm, but all too often lately it's become a dangerous mixture that ends badly for bears.

This morning, Mayor Mark Begich and Department of Fish and Game commissioner McKie Campbell announced some changes that could reduce what lures bears into neighborhoods -- the enticing aroma of garbage.

"Beginning in two weeks, Alaska Waste will no longer pick up on Saturdays," said Begich.

Alaska Waste is Anchorage's largest trash collector, with 41,000 residential customers. The company is also agreeing to move back its start time for weekday collections. Instead of 6 a.m., next summer it'll start picking up trash at 7:30.

"These changes -- no Saturday's and later start times -- will allow residents to put their trash out early in the morning and not have to put it out the day before," said Begich.

The company says the schedule changes will mean purchasing more trucks in order to complete its rounds. The city is also making a financial investment, purchasing 18 bear-proof trash containers for parks across town with another 18 being installed next summer. It's all designed to keep garbage away from bears.

The decisions to do away with Saturday pickups and to push back the weekday schedule are considered important ones by all those involved. however, they are quick to point out that they are just small steps in finding a permanent solution to the bear problems created by trash.

McKie Campbell says educating the public will be key.

"We simply don't have the staff or the resources to be responding to calls 24 hours a day. And so once the call goes to APD, it will come to our biologists on staff and they make a decision. A discretionary call as to the level of possible threat, " said Grant Hilderbrand, Alaska Fish and Wildlife.

The hope is that the level of threat for people and bears will be diminished if Tuesday's proposed changes work.

Alaska Waste will halt its Saturday service in two weeks. The other schedule change will not happen until next summer because the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, which oversees the industry, must first approve the change. Fish and Game says it can no longer afford to respond around the clock to calls about bears roaming Anchorage neighborhoods. From now on, calls to APD will be forwarded to biologists who will then decide if they'll respond. They say if a person is threatened by a bear that will get top priority.    
Area biologist Rick Sinnott has long called for these types of changes. He was growing frustrated with a number of Anchorage neighborhoods that had very early trash pick up. Many residents in those neighborhoods would put their trash out the night before and that increased the chances of a bear being attracted to the area.

Sinnott's boss, Campbell, says Sinnott became so frustrated that he ordered Sinnott to stay out of bear issues. Campbell says he thinks Sinnott will likely be dealing with bears again in the future. However, he refused to say when that might happen.

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