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Bear Grant Targets Human Behavior

Letters / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / August 27, 2005

KENAI, Alaska (AP) -- The city of Kenai and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will share in a federal grant aimed at changing human behavior to reduce bear encounters.

The $90,000 grant, which will come via the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Private Stewardship Grants Program, will be passed through Kenai to the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Safari Club International, a hunters' group dedicated to preserving wildlife.

State fish and game officials will oversee the project, described by one as a kind of pilot program that could spread elsewhere in Alaska if this one is successful at getting the active participation of the public in making neighborhoods bear-safe.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game receives literally hundreds of reports over the course of a typical summer season regarding everything from bear sightings to actual attacks, said Jeff Selinger, an area wildlife biologist.

Sometimes it's just that neighborhoods have been built over what had been corridors typically used by bears. But more often than not, occurrences in populated areas are connected in some way to poor human habits, he said.

"We don't expect people to live in gated communities, but we are looking for them to take reasonable measures to eliminate attractants," Selinger said.

Bears, moose and other wildlife are learning that human-populated areas are a great source of food.

"It's a major issue we deal with at Fish and Game," Selinger said. "Local law enforcement officers also answer nuisance bear and moose calls, particularly in Kenai."

The grant will make funds available to homeowners to subsidize purchase of bear-proof garbage containers. S&R Sanitation has joined with the agencies in the effort to discourage bears, as well as other wildlife including moose, from wandering into neighborhoods in search of food.

By taking a proactive approach, Fish and Game hopes to educate homeowners about handling and disposing of garbage in a way that won't attract bears. Poor habits, such as leaving garbage exposed, dumping fish waste on the side of the road, or leaving pets and small farm animals vulnerable can all contribute to the frequency of bear-human encounters and ultimately lead to the needless destruction of bears.

"You could kill every bear that walks into your community, but is that really the image you want for this state?' said Larry Lewis, a Fish and Game wildlife technician largely responsible for pushing the bear-safe community program on the peninsula.

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