Sinnott: Biologist over the line in interview, commissioner saysRosemary Shinohara / Anchorage Daily News / July 28, 2005
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will quit responding to most nighttime
calls about bears in Anchorage neighborhoods. And state biologist Rick Sinnott,
until now the main guy dealing with bear-human conflicts, has been ordered not
to talk to the press about bears anymore, because of some forceful remarks of
his in a newspaper story, the state Fish and Game commissioner said
Commissioner McKie Campbell said an article in last Thursday's Daily News prompted him to tell Sinnott "for the indefinite future to cease representing the department on matters dealing with bears and bear management."
In the article, Sinnott commented on an incident in which someone dumped rotting fish on the Anchorage Hillside, which could draw dangerous brown bears close to homes and people.
"I'd like to catch the a-holes who did it and beat the crap out of them," Sinnott was quoted as saying.
Sinnott has been increasingly outspoken in recent weeks about garbage that attracts bears into residential areas. He urged Mayor Mark Begich to take some actions: require trash collection companies to change pickup schedules so people are not tempted to leave garbage out overnight, and assertively enforce a city law that says trash can't be out overnight.
Campbell said Sinnott's statements in the rotting fish article were evidence of Sinnott's mounting frustration.
The commissioner said he shares the frustration, but he called Sinnott's statements "definitely unprofessional."
"It's very important we be able to work constructively with the municipality to address this situation," Campbell said.
He and Begich met Wednesday to begin doing that, he said.
Begich and Campbell agreed that more money and attention are needed to figure out how to keep bears from endangering residents and themselves, said city spokeswoman Julie Hasquet.
"He (Begich) does not agree with Sinnott's view it is just the city's responsibility," said Hasquet.
Sinnott was not available for comment.
"We're hoping in a week or so to make an announcement about what we might do," Hasquet said. It could include such things as changing trash pickup hours, she said.
Campbell said he had decided even before the rotting fish article that Fish and Game should respond less often to incidents of bears wandering through Anchorage neighborhoods.
Sinnott, often with assistant biologist Jessy Coltrane, received calls day and night from residents and police about bears causing trouble, and often went out to track them down. Sometimes they shot the bear, and other times scared it off, depending on the particular bear's behavior and history.
"To some extent, what Rick and Jessy were doing was bailing (out a sinking boat)," Campbell said. "It doesn't matter how fast or how hard you bail if you don't address how fast the water's going in."
With Sinnott completely off bears, Coltrane will now decide when to race to a bear trouble scene, and she will be doing it mostly during the daytime hours and with Fish and Game staff other than Sinnott, Campbell said.
That would leave it up to the Anchorage Police Department to handle bear encounters at night.
However, APD doesn't plan to step in unless a bear creates a danger to people or property, said deputy chief Audie Holloway.
"We will be telling people they need to call Fish and Game. It's still their responsibility," Holloway said. "We can't take on the burden of going out and shepherding the wild animals."
Sinnott will not be working on bear issues anymore but will be managing other wildlife in Anchorage and may discuss other animals like moose and porcupine with the press, Campbell said.
While Sinnott was not allowed to talk to the Daily News about what he thinks of the situation, Campbell recounted his own conversation with Sinnott: "Rick told me that his wife told him he'd made a mistake. I said, 'Rick, my wife tells me that on a regular basis, and she's almost always right.' "
Daily News reporter Rosemary Shinohara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4340
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