Living in Juneau still means living with bears, but this year it hasn't meant living with marauders, said the woman coordinating city efforts to curb bear problems.
Maria Gladziszewski, a special projects officer for the city, said problems with bears getting into garbage picked up in the fall - "from about zero."
"It was not that long ago that we had nightly marauding of bears downtown," she said
Neil Barten, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, attributed the late-season increase to bears running out of natural food before heading into hibernation.
Juneau Police Sgt. Dave Campbell, who supervises officers responding to bear-related complaints, described 2004 as "mellow" for Juneau's bears.
City statistics of bear-related police calls back up his assessment. From March through September, police took about 110 calls. Through August in 2003, police responded to 466 bear calls. That was more than 100 fewer for the same period in 2002, when police handled 556 calls.
There were still problems this year. In October, a Tee Harbor area resident shot a bear that entered his home more than one. That was the first bear that had to be killed in the city since last year, when a bear was threatening residents in the Thunder Mountain area of the Valley.
At least three bears were shot in Juneau in each of the previous three years. The Empire reported seven bears shot in 2002.
Barten said he can remember when bear shootings were more frequent. Although Fish and Game doesn't follow the number of bear complaints in the city, he has noticed fewer problems with urban bears.
The weather helped this year, he said. It was a good season for salmon and berries, so bears could find food without raiding garbage, he said.
A big factor has been the city's move to make garbage less accessible, Gladziszewski said.
"This will always be an education issue," she said. People have to learn how not to attract bears. "The people of Juneau, to a large extent, have done the right thing."
In Juneau, people can't put out their garbage until 4 a.m. on the day of pickup. The law requires they keep garbage in a bear-proof enclosure the rest of the time. This year the law began requiring lids to be kept secure.
Arrow Refuse distributed more the 150 bear-proof trash containers, the first 50 as part of a trial program to see how well they stood up to urban bear country. Gladziszewski knows of only one incident where a bear broke into a properly closed container.
She said she will meet with police and Fish and Game officers during the winter to decide how the city will prepare for the bears' return from hibernation.
"We've had some success," she said, "but it's always going to be a process of education and keeping at it."
* Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.