Anchorage eyes trash ordinance to reduce bear conflict

Trashcan at a park in Muldoon (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Anchorage leaders are looking to amp up regulations aimed at preventing bears from getting into trash.

The assembly has held a work session on the topic, and an ordinance currently being drafted by the administration is expected to be proposed later this month.

"A lot of other jurisdictions have gone to exclusively bear resistant containers. We haven't done that in Anchorage yet, and we're not planning to do that just yet. But we're hoping we can get bear resistant containers in some of the bear hot spot areas, and do other things to try to limit that interaction, and try to prevent loose trash from being out on the street," said assemblyman Forrest Dunbar.

State biologists say unsecured trash is the biggest driver of conflicts between humans and bears in Anchorage.

"There's a lot of bear habitat in Anchorage, so bears are coming in for natural foods as well," said Dave Battle, Anchorage area biologist with the Department of Fish and Game. "But they're very opportunistic animals, so when they encounter easily available trash or birdseed or anything like that, it's a smorgasbord to them."

Battle says the most common areas for bear encounters are near wooded areas. Muldoon and Hillside are traditional bear hot spots.

"There's a gradual escalation where a bear first starts to get a reward. He might come and get rewarded once or twice. As he continues to do that and nothing happens to him, he gets more and more brazen, and the ones that are really brazen we often have to kill. But in the meantime he's endangering the neighborhood," Battle said.

A state law already exists prohibits feeding wildlife or negligently leaving garbage in a manner that attracts animals.

Dunbar says the work the administration and assembly are doing is to allow the municipality to be able to enforce the law, but Dunbar says the Muni must work to make it easier for people to comply.

"So we can do things like ticket people for not securing their trash, for putting it out too early, but we also need help from the utilities," Dunbar said. "One of the issues I have with the current draft ordinance proposed by the administration is it seems to put all the pressure on the residents and not on the utilities. I think the utilities want to do the right thing, so we want the utilities to step up as well and alter pick up times for example, try to make bear resistant containers more available in more sizes."

Currently, Alaska Waste offers curbside trash collection in it's Anchorage service area in either a 32, 64 or 96 gallon container. The only bear resistant container offered is 96 gallons.

"So if someone wants to switch to a bear resistant container, it can be very expensive for them," Dunbar said.

Dunbar says other local governments, such as Juneau, have effectively put measures in place.

In Juneau, garbage is required to be kept in a bear resistant container or enclosure unless its put out to the curb the morning of collection. If a Juneau resident's garbage attracts bears and the resident doesn't take steps to legally store the waste, the city can impose a $50 fine for the first offense.

"Bear resistant containers aren't enough. You have to do things like change human behavior, the way we secure our trash and also utility behavior when they pick up that trash," Dunbar said. It's going to take all of us working together to prevent these kinds of problems."

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