ICYMI: After 3 'trash bears' are shot dead in Eagle River, what can a homeowner do?

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Editor's Note: This story was originally posted Friday, June 22.

(Courtesy John Kahlstrom)

Solid Waste Services says customers in Airport Heights, Government Hill, Fairview and Rogers Park have until the end of the day Friday, June 29, to sign up for a bear resistant trash can and have the $30 exchange fee waived.

Original Story - Friday, June 22, 2018:
Three bears have been shot dead in Eagle River this week by wildlife officials and APD, and sparked a debate over how to avoid bad interactions between bears and people.

In this week’s first incident, two brown bears were shot dead by Fish and Game after becoming accustomed to trash in Eagle River neighborhoods. Another bear was shot and injured this week by a homeowner in the same area. Fish and Game and APD had to respond and kill that animal as well, said Ken Marsh, spokesperson for Fish and Game.

For wildlife managers, the answer is clear—people need to hold their trash tighter before pickup day.

“This morning, no surprise, there weren’t any trash cans tipped over because we got rid of the culprits, for now,” Marsh said Tuesday, the day after the first two brown bears were killed. “That’s until the next bears come,” he continued.

Bear-resistant trash cans are available from two of the city’s largest garbage companies, Alaska Waste, and Solid Waste Services. Alaska Waste has more than 1,000 bear-resistant cans in service. Solid Waste Services, which serves far fewer people,

Some Channel 2 viewers say they’ve been on a waiting list for a bear resistant trash can for more than a year.

“Once our supply gets wiped out, it’s very hard to get more,” said Kurt Froening, Alaska Waste’s Assistant District Manager. “They’re expensive and the manufacturers don’t keep a stock of them.

Two high-profile bear attacks last year caused a run on Alaska Waste’s bear cans, Froening said.

He said the company has switched manufacturers, which he thinks will result in the cans lasting longer, but that the transition from one company to another also took some time.

Solid Waste Services, which is owned by the city, says it doesn’t have a wait list. The company has had bear-resistant trash cans for about three years, according to spokesperson Suzanna Caldwell.

Even with bear-resistant trash carts, that’s not a guarantee to avoiding bear problems.

“Bear carts are a tool, but they are not the magic bullet,” said Froening, with Alaska Waste. “I think a lot of people feel like if they have a bear cart, everything’s fine and they don’t need to worry about it.”

Froening and Marsh agree that keeping trash not online in a bear-resistant trash can, but inside is the best preventive step.

“The best thing that the public can do is help us out and help the bears out and make their own neighborhoods safer by keeping their trash in until the morning of pickup, taking it out then, and if you can possibly get ahold of bear-roof trash cans, by all means do so,” Marsh said Tuesday.

For those still waiting for bear-resistant trash cans, some have turned to other methods to keep bears at bay. “I don’t have a garage to keep my trash in,” wrote April Karper on Channel 2’s Facebook page. She said she uses a heavy-duty ratchet strap. “I have not had a problem since.”

Ramona Larsen wrote that she uses Pine-sol. “They don’t like the smell,” she said. Channel 2 viewer Debi Okonek says her family secures their trash can in a dog run with a roof.

Theresa Daily, who lives in Chugiak, came up with an unusual tactic about three years ago — she puts animatronic Halloween decorations in her trash can. The witch decoration wiggles, makes noise and flashes its eyes when it’s touched.

“We haven’t had a problem since I put that witch on there,” Daily said Friday. She said she also keeps most trash that’s not paper products out of her can until garbage pickup day.

Fines for illegal feeding of wildlife range from $310 for something like carelessly leaving out trash that, to $10,000 and a year in jail for particularly egregious cases, Marsh said.

Since May 1 of 2017, Alaska Wildlife Troopers have cited five people in the Anchorage area for feeding game. Four more have received warnings.

Marsh says the best way to document a problem trash area is to take a photo either of a bear in the trash can, or the aftermath, with the address and location visible, and report to it to Fish and Game. Those reports can be made on the department’s website.

“As long as we keep leaving trash out and making human-provided food available for bears, bears in the Eagle River area are going to come out of the park, they’re going to come out of the river corridor, they’re going to come off base, and they’re going to continue to get into trash,” Marsh said Tuesday. “And we’re going to continue to have to repeat this cycle where we have to kill bears.”

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