Bears in the City

Bears in the City

The Anchorage Daily News recently reported that the Assembly is thinking about staffing Anchorage with a "bear cop." The idea was proposed by Eagle River Assemblyman Bill Starr, and will be discussed at a public hearing tonight at the Assembly meeting at Loussac Library. Grizzly bear attacks within the city limits have been on the rise in the past few years. Last summer was one of the worst for bear attacks in Anchorage history. In the past, bears in the city have been handled by the Department of Fish and Game and, in emergency situations, by the city police. The idea behind adding a dedicated bear manager to the city payroll is that they would be able to consult in both short-term emergencies and in long-range planning. The presence of wildlife (BIG wildlife) in the city is one of the benefits to living in Anchorage. Nevertheless, it's understandable that people are thinking about drawing the line at bears. Bear attacks are sudden and violent, and there's no doubt that a grizzly bear can be a dangerous animal. At the same time, no one is proposing that Anchorage hire a "moose cop." Even though moose are indirectly responsible for more annual deaths than bears. Despite the moose fencing along several major roads and highways, moose still find a way to engage in what seems to be their favorite pastime - dashing across a road in the middle of the night. (Anchorage Daily News writer Doug O'Hara called this "moose roulette.") When I was growing up in Anchorage, my parents impressed upon me a need for caution with regards to grizzly bears. Actually, it didn't require very much "impressing." The word "bear" is enough to get anyone's attention, even a young teenager taking her dog out for a walk in a local park. We lived off Muldoon near Tudor, and I would often take my dog for walks through the Chugach Foothills and what is now Bicentennial Park. I always clipped my keys to a belt loop, and felt that the jangling of the keys and my dog's tags would keep us safe against bear attacks. We never ran into any bears, although we often saw moose. (And once at dusk a snowy owl suddenly whooshed silently across the path about three feet from my face. That gave me quite a start.) The closest I ever got to seeing a bear was the time my friends and I started up the path to Flattop. We hadn't gone more than fifty feet before a group of hikers ran down the trail towards us, and warned us about a grizzly sow with cubs up ahead. We briefly considered sneaking farther up the trail to have a peek. But teen bravado failed, discretion took the upper hand, and we walked back to the parking lot. I can't remember bears ever having been sighted within the Anchorage city limits when I was a kid. A lot of people are blaming the rise in bear sightings on suburban dwellers pushing farther into the edges of the city, setting up remote subdivisions with bear-accessible trash containers. The city has considered requiring bear-proof trash containers for all residents of particular neighborhoods, which would certainly improve matters. Unfortunately, these trash cans are pricey, and the city is reluctant to insist that everyone shell out hundreds of dollars on a trash can. Two things are certain: the rate of bear encounters inside the city limits isn't likely to wane any time soon, and some measures will have to be taken. Actually, there's a third thing: if I had seen this map of the locations of radio collared grizzly bears when I was a teen, I might not have been so sanguine about the power of a jangling ring of keys to ward off a grizzly bear attack.