News from Patrick Flynn

Bear necessities

As you may have read in this morning’s edition of the local paper my Assembly colleague, Bill Starr, plans to introduce a resolution at our October 28 meeting that calls for hiring a seasonal “Wildlife Safety Specialist…to manage nuisance and dangerous bears.”

Two of the resolve clauses in Mr. Starr’s proposal would expand hunting in the Municipality of Anchorage, they appear below:

6. Formal request to the Board of Game to authorize increased permit hunting options for moose in the upper Hillside and Eagle River Valley areas to assist in mitigation.

7. Formal request to the Board of Game to authorize permit hunting options for brown bear in the upper Hillside, Eagle River, and Southfork areas, and on certain Heritage Land Bank lands, as designated by the Municipality.

Because hunting in Anchorage is a rather sensitive topic I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on using it as a management tool, particularly in light of this summer’s spike in bear-human interactions. Please take a moment to answer the poll question (toward the bottom of the page, right hand side) or post a comment.



P.S. As information, the public hearing on Mr. Starr’s proposal is currently scheduled for November 25.

This contribution was made on Thursday, 23. October 2008 at 09:30 and was published under the category Neighborhoods. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. I am not opposed to opening up responsible hunting to control the bear population provided that the numbers of bears to be “eliminated” is supported scientifically by fish and game.

    I also hope that the Wildlife Safety Specialist will educate the public on animal migration/corridor patterns in and around Anchorage. Educating people as to their role in making responsible choices for their own safety should be in the job description for the specialist. Make no mistake: I am a human in bear country, not the other way around, and as such I base my decisions on that assumption. I see the specialist having a role in education.

    Comment: Sunny – 23. October 2008 @ 10:20 am

  2. We have many members who are residents of Anchorage, and I am sure some of those are expert enough at hunting bears to assist in establishing a controlled hunt that will in the end be beneficial not only to the citizens of Anchorage, but to the bear population itself. In order to understand this, it would be most helpful if members of the Anchorage Assembly were to read Professor John Reiger’s book “The Origins of Conservation” and Frank Miniter’s book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting”.

    These are the facts whether any emotionally minded activists wants to believe in them or not.

    *Hunted populations of bears are far less likely to attack humans than non-hunted populations.
    *Hunting occurs in and around many other “urban setting” throughout the nation, there isn’t any reason to forego that opportunity here.
    *Accidents resulting in injury or death are very few in the hunting arena. In fact you are far more likely to be injured playing golf than going hunting.
    *Last, but probably most important of all, hunters, not the general public, pay for wildlife conservation. In fact viable populations of bears, bison, sheep, moose, caribou, deer, turkeys, swans, geese, etc. exist today because of hunting conservation groups, not entities such as the Alaska Conservation Foundation, Sierra Club or Greenpeace.

    In the end, commen sense dictates that the initiation of such a measure to mitiagate bear-human conflicts and to retain a viable population of wild bears in close proximity to Anchorage, would be the most productive of any available alternatives.

    Comment: eddie – 26. October 2008 @ 8:10 am

  3. These are my commnents to assembly on this topic

    To the Anchorage Assembly:

    I am fully supportive of resolution 2008-253 and commend Mr. Star for taking the initiative to bring this issue forward to the full assembly. The resolution hits on several important elements in helping restore our community parks for human use.

    There is much talk about bear corridors and areas near salmon streams, as if the risk is somehow confined to specific areas. I had a very close encounter with a Sow Brown Bear and Cubs over a quarter mile from Campbell creek, a short distance from the Hilltop parking area, all while jogging with a friend and making lots of noise at 1PM on a June Saturday. At that time there were dozens of cars in the Abbott parking lot. There we also close calls well outside City parks, several reported Brown Bear Moose kills in hillside neighborhoods and a vehicle collision with a Brown Bear in Midtown. Clearly closing “corridors” would require drastic restrictions on public use of treasured green space in our community.

    Such impact on public use of open space was evident this summer. After my well publicized encounter and a life threatening mauling a week later, the hillside park was mostly void of humans for the rest of the summer. Service High XC runners were bused to Kincaid; Trailside Elementary youth had
    restrictions on outdoor activities. Most outdoor enthusiasts went
    elsewhere, and some starting packing guns, that having its own safety implications. If we simply abide by the ADFG approach of treating this as a human problem, we have essentially closed most of our urban green space to public use with the exception of the winter months. These park resources are a tremendous community asset and should not be turned into wildlife preserves because the City acquiesces to wildlife policy of ADFG that considers bears a resource but humans a problem.

    The resolution should be amended to address the salmon stocking which may be as much of an attractant to Brown Bears as unrestrained trash is to Black bears. The City should consider asking ADFG to implement a moratorium on salmon stocking programs in the City until it can be demonstrated that those programs are not contributing further to the problem. The ill thought Chester Creek program is likely to exacerbate the brown bear problem and turn another community asset, the Chester Creek green belt, into a winter only trail. It is ironic that AFDG admonishes poor trash handling for its affect on black bears (rightly so), yet the agency fails to even acknowledge the similar effects of its own fisheries programs on Brown Bears. Does this mean it is OK to bait bears as long as it is a healthy diet? Where is there consideration of public safety?

    The timing of this resolution is important, as the board of game meets in the spring of next year to address changes to hunting regulations for the next three years. This assembly resolution would go far in showing community support for controlling Moose populations in the Anchorage Bowl.
    It should be followed by a petition for increased hunts in the park with the goal of controlling the Moose population to a more suitable level. In the long run this would likely help reduce the bear density in town.

    Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

    Rick Rogers

    Comment: Rick Rogers – 28. October 2008 @ 8:31 am

  4. I believe this is a very serious topic that requires much investigation. The opportunity for EXERIENCED, ETHICAL, LOCAL RESIDENT hunters to harvest Brown Bears within and around the municipality in order to reduce the growing bear population is a very viable option as a management tool. I cannot express the importance of the hunters experience. Due to the local of the enviroment it is vital that ADF&G permit only those demonstrating ability, and in my belief previous successes, in harvesting these big game animals.
    The harvest of local moose is not a new topic and also requires some in depth consideration. I believe that this harvest could be conducted ethically and safely providing there is proper supervision. I propose that we allow youth (16 years or under) or senior (60 years or over) only permits. This would allow the Anchorage youth and senior population of Anchorage to participate in a hunt with the high possibility of success without the expense or time alotment required to hunt in many areas within the State of Alaska. I also feel that the Moose hunts should be accompanied by a proven ETHICAL,EXPERIENCED, and successful adult hunter. Due to the fact that most families within the Anchorage area do not need an entire moose, I believe it would show great forethought and community involvment by the Department if part of each moose harvested locally was donated to an established charity such as the Food Bank, Beans Cafe, Rescue Mission etc… I am sure that local processors would donate the processing for such a noble cause.
    The greatest concern when permitting “urban harvest” is public perception. Many animals may be harvested in an ethical, humane manner but it only takes one mistake or incident to place the entire hunting community in a bad light with the local, non-hunting community. With our “national pasttime” under such extreme scrutiny today it is very important that this “urban harvest” is done in a very cautious, humane, polite, and discrete manner. We must weigh the danger of possibly leaving a huge scar on the hunter/non-hunter relationship prior to an incident that could alienate a huge portion of our city.
    I know that some of this may seem idealistic but we can only support and operate an “urban harvest” in an idealistic manner. Because of this, as a long time Licensed Assistant Big Game Guide (13 years), I would volunteer my time and resources to those local individuals fortunate enough to obtain permits. I feel that it is of utmost importance to insure proper, ETHICAL harvest that will promote the art of hunting while taking calculated measures to educate, not to alienate, our non-hunting neighbors.

    Comment: Josh Hayes – 28. October 2008 @ 9:32 am

  5. I am writing to voice both support and concerns regarding actions outlined in the resolution. I am a resident of Eagle River.

    I appreciate actions that will promote the safety of municipality residents as we life with big wildlife, while preserving the character of a city which prides itself on Big Wild Life. Thus, I am glad to read this resolution which addresses actions we can take to insure the safety of both humans and bears. I believe in having a Wildlife Safety Specialist within the muncipality, to work with State Fish and Game biologists and residents, to create a safer environment for both people and bears through education and enforcement of regulations that reduce conflicts, including garbage handling.

    Item #4 in the resolution, consistently and broadly insuring proper trash management policies is a great start for reducing the creation of problem bears. Expanding this to incorporate other components of how we handle bear attractants on our properties, including bird feeders, domestic livestock and domestic animal feed is probably another important component of this. Items #8, #9 and #10 are also critical, expanding education and reporting.

    The rest of the resolution steps outside of what I perceive to be the responsibilities of the municipality, and should be left to State Fish and Game trained Wildlife Biologists. The municipality should have staff that are trained and qualified to work closely with them, we should support expansion of State Wildlife Biologist positions that deal with urban wildlife problems.

    I am a frequent user of Anchorage’s trails, but feel that it is important to share them with all users, including bears. We should be able to grant the bears Rovers Run or other streamside trails during the salmon runs, as we are fortunate to have such an extensive trail system from hillside to the coastal trail. Chugach State Park takes an active approach every year towards curbing bear-human encounters by closing one of its trails here at the Eagle River Nature Center that follows the river, the Albert Loop, when the salmon arrive. Bears are still present and visible in the vicinity of the nature center and open trails, but have a large area to retreat to and escape human activities, which I perceive to be particularly important for sows with cubs. Bear encounters will occur throughout our municipality, and expert opinion and the best available science should be used in determining our strategies for coexistence to insure real solutions.

    Further, I do not believe that a City Manager is ultimately qualified to make these critical decisions outlined in point #2 of the resolution, and. I believe that it is the State’s responsibility to handle actions in item #3 pertaining as to when a bear needs to be relocated or destoyed. Lets partner for solutions instead of divide based on fear.

    Rick Sinnott advised against expanding trails in lower Eagle River this summer because of the potential conflicts between fishing bears and humans. Will this advice be headed or ignored and then result in more humans hurt and bears killed? Ignoring this advice creates a losing situation for all when there are other alternatives for- recreation that do not take people into important bear habitat.

    Which brings me to the point that the Municipality should be proactive in understanding and designating critical wildlife habitat within the city and insuring safe corridors for both humans and wildlife. This point should be part of an effective resolution.

    I am not opposed to hunting, however I feel that it needs to used as a tool for sustaining healthy wildlife populations and not as a shotgun approach to dealing with human-wildlife interactions and conflicts (pun intended). I am thus opposed to the Municipality formally resolving to ask Fish and Game for increased hunting in the hillside and Eagle River valleys. If Wildlife Biologists believe that we do need this as a tool for healthy, sustainable populations, then their recommendations should be considered on that basis and not a fear factor.

    Comment: Wendy – 28. October 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  6. I attended the Public Safety hearing on bear/human interactions. I am very appreciative of Assemblyman Starr’s interest in this matter.
    Although Mr. Sinnott gave a very thorough presentation of the wildlife management angle on the issue his use of statistics was misleading.

    There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics
    – Benjamin Disraeli

    Mr. Sinnott stated that there was less risk of death or injury from a bear encounter than from road accidents or human-to-human violence.
    It is true that in the Anchorage bowl per year there are more deaths and serious injuries from motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) and assaults than there are from bear attacks, but risk (or incidence) of an adverse event needs to be quantified by exposure to a specific threat.

    The risk of a road traffic accident is best expressed in terms of serious injury per number of vehicle miles traveled. National statistics of MVA injury in the year 2006 show 1 injury per 1.2 million miles traveled. From June through August there were 4 serious bear human encounters (2 maulings, 2 near maulings) in Bicentennial Park. If the risk of a serious bear encounter were equal to the risk of MVA injury, people utilizing Bicentennial Park would need to hike or bike 4.8 million cumulative miles over a period of 90 days. This would equate to every man, woman and child in Anchorage biking or hiking 18 miles in the park during this time frame.

    The 2005 Anchorage Parks Survey (random selection of 1600 Anchorage adults) showed that only 36% visited one of 10 parks on more than a weekly basis. Bicentennial Park was the second most frequently visited park behind Kincaid Park. Therefore a generous estimate of usage of Bicentennial Park would be 10% of the Anchorage population using the park on a weekly basis. This would equate to 312,000 park visits over 90 days. If each visitor walked or biked 3 miles each visit, the cumulative miles traveled would be just less than one million miles. So the risk of a bear mauling per human mile traveled is at least 4 times the risk of injury due to a motor vehicle accident.

    A similar analysis can be made comparing human-to-human violence resulting in death or injury. There are many more human-to-human encounters in Bicentennial Park than there are human-to-bear encounters (probably on the order of 1,000 to 1). If Mr. Sinnott was correct in his assertion that a human-to-human encounter was more likely to result in death or injury than a human to bear encounter one would expect about 4,000 casualties to have occurred in the Park from June through July.

    In short, Mr. Sinnott’s statements as to the risk of a bear mauling in the park seems disingenuous. This is to be expected as Mr. Sinnott’s mandate as an employee of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is to preserve and manage wildlife. In light of this, human safety and access to one of Anchorage’s premier recreational sites would be a secondary concern. Perhaps this would be an understandable position if brown bears were an endangered species whose only available habitat was the Anchorage Bowl.
    Mr. Sinnott’s assertion that the problem is a human problem rather than a bear problem due to garbage attracting bears into populated areas is absurd. None of the brown bear encounters in Bicentennial Park were in proximity to unsecured garbage which is a known black bear attractant.

    The concept that closing the several trails near salmon streams can minimize the risk of a bear mauling is also absurd. Half of the bear charges in Bicentennial Park occurred well away from salmon streams. It is notable that the only fatalities in the Anchorage Bowl due to bear maulings were due to a bear defending a moose kill. Moose kills are common throughout Bicentennial Park and for that matter are not uncommon in neighborhoods throughout the Hillside.

    The moose kill that closed the Botanical Gardens is indicative that this problem extends well beyond the Hillside. Urban Anchorage has become prime moose habitat and therefore prime brown bear habitat.
    It is notable that the spate of bear charges this year resulted in the virtual closure of all of Bicentennial Park to recreation. The Anchorage School District felt the risk was high enough to bus the Service High School cross-country running team across town to Kincaid Park for daily practice.
    Bicentennial Park is a priceless human recreational resource. To value an overpopulation of bear and moose within city limits above human welfare makes no sense. To stock urban streams with salmon that will draw bears into parks and neighborhoods is equally absurd.

    Comment: Steve Tower – 28. October 2008 @ 7:14 pm

  7. many people come and have moved here to have experiences with nature which includes the animals. I know driving to a trailhead is the most dangerous part of any of my outings and I do way more than most, (fopr that I’m grateful) and I choose to pay attention to my surroundings. If people are to frightened and think we need to hunt the local anaimal population. i think they may consider going someplace else, perhaps california where they have a state animal which is extinct in california. to those who still want to stay and are afarid , then get a gym membership! harsh I know and its just my thoughts, and most likily a nimber of others
    Security is a state of mind, and paying close attention to where you are!

    Comment: alan – 29. October 2008 @ 12:34 pm

  8. You’re poll was closed very quickly. I’m sure rick rydell is happy about that. Consider opening your poll a little longer if you want a more realistic representation of Anchorage’s voters.

    Comment: Wade – 29. October 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  9. Controlled hunting to reduce the bear population is a step in the right direction. Part of my life was spent in bush Alaska and if bears came too close, posing a threat, we shot them. No, actually our neighbor who worked for Fish and Game shot them. Not because he was Fish and Game but as a concerned neighbor. He knew there were children in the neighborhood and did not wait for them to get mauled. He valued human life more than the chance to see a bear up close.

    I am an avid hiker and skier and have lived in Alaska for over 40 years. I have never been afraid to use the trails before, but this year I was fearful. I have come across many bears in my life and I love seeing them. However, the situation in Anchorage is out of control and something needs to be done. People should be able to use the trails around the city without being attacked by bears.

    We never had bear problems when I was growing up on the hillside. Some might argue that there were fewer houses then and the bears had more room to roam. While this is true, we never saw one single bear, not even tracks or bear scat. The changes in the population are unnerving. I have seen numerous bears in the last few years and lots of bear sign. Even more unnerving is the fact that the bears no longer run when confronted by humans. They just stand there knowing you pose no threat.

    There are millions of acres of habitat outside of Anchorage area that can support bear populations. The attitude that we need to move somewhere else is ridiculous. We live here because we love being outdoors. There used to be hunting and it kept the bears away. It’s time to start hunting again!

    Comment: Anne Yutrzenka – 29. October 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  10. Alaska Center for the Environment supports section 4, which calls for increased enforcement on unsecured garbage and other attractants. We also support section 9, which calls for more public education on living safely in bear country.

    Alaska Center for the Environment has some concerns about other parts of the resolution, specifically:

    2. Establishment of a seasonal Wildlife Safety Specialist on a contract basis, within the Office of the Municipal Manager. Reporting to the City Manager, this individual will be qualified to manage nuisance and dangerous bears. Contributions from Anchorage Parks and Recreation, Chugiak-Eagle River Parks and Recreation, and the Anchorage Police Department budgets may be used to fund this specialist position.

    6. Formal request to the Board of Game to authorize increased permit hunting options for moose in the upper Hillside and Eagle River Valley areas to assist in mitigation.

    7. Formal request to the Board of Game to authorize permit hunting options for brown bear in the upper Hillside, Eagle River, and Southfork areas, and on certain Heritage Land Bank lands, as designated by the Municipality.

    We think these three provisions go overboard.

    Regarding wildlife in general, proper signage and education are key. For example, the proposed Far North Bicentennial Park solution that keeps the main multi-use thoroughfares out of bear feeding areas, involves more public education and more signage, and includes ample bear-resistant garbage cans at trailheads, should be sufficient to protect public safety. We should at least allow the park plan process to run its course before taking more drastic measures. It was vetted with a wide range of park user groups and people concerned about safety for themselves and wildlife.

    Based on our experience at ACE, when trail users are part of a group, make some noise, and are bear aware, they tend not to have unfortunate wildlife encounters. In over 11 years of being out and about near Campbell Creek, no one at our k-12 outdoor education camp, Trailside Discovery, has even seen a brown bear along Campbell Creek. Our mountain biking crews (as a large group) have pedaled down Rover’s Run trail frequently with no incident.

    Comment: ACE – 30. October 2008 @ 9:26 am

  11. Hunting won’t do a darn thing to reduce the bears.

    As long as there’s a food source (mainly salmon, and secondarily Hillside homes garbage) there will be bears filling in behind their already gunned down buddies. Mr. Starr’s proposal treats the symptom’s rather than the causes listed above (moose are probably a distant third on the menu since they’re only vulnerable during the couple of weeks of calving).

    In my opinion, the question should be “To provide for public safety, should salmon populations in certain streams (recommend Campbell Creek and Westchester drainages only) be eliminated”?

    In the past year, approximately 125,000 users were logged on the trails at BLM’s Campbell Tract (which includes the Science Center). Annual use has been increasing at a rate of 5% every year for the past year. I would imagine the number of days of angler effort is probably no more than two percent of trail use. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing a terminal fishery in Campbell Lake, and salmon numbers reduced to nearly zero.

    What is ridiculous is that ADFG blindly promotes salmon in all streams, regardless of impacts to adjacent users. In Alaska, “Salmon in the City Equals Bears in the City”!

    Mineral Creek, the ditch next to the north uphill Glenn HIghway at Eagle River, and site of the bear attack this summer, was originally a free running stream that was turned into a ditch by highway construction. Now there is a frontage road, a bunch of homes on it, w/ families with young kids, and a recent group of condos developed at the bottom. The ‘stream’ has been recolonized by Eagle River salmon, is frequented by bears, so it was no surprise that a mauling took place next to it this summer.

    Note I don’t recommend eliminating salmon populations in not all Anchorage streams–we can make it equitable so we still have ‘Salmon in the City’ and continue to encourage the salmon run in Ship Creek (although trail users on the new Ship Creek Trail will probably need to be on alert) and the natural one in Rabbit Creek. Trail users will have safety on two of the most heavily used park and greenbelt areas, and the best and most popular fishing (Ship Creek) will be maintained.

    A number of people, myself included, don’t see the bears as a negative factor–just part of the real Alaska landscape that needs to be respected, and value the experience of recreating in bear country as others do fishing. I ride, ski and hike in Far North Park on an average of 3 times/week minimum, for the past decade, mainly riding in the summer and skiing in the winter, and have never seen more than old sign of brown bears on two occasions….when I learned of the salmon/bear issue three summers ago, I modified my use habits and stayed away from the creeks during salmon time.

    BTW, “closing” trails is the wrong answer–upper Rovers Run was never really designed and built for summer use…it has lots of problems because it was not properly located…I’d recommend abandoning the current alignment, and putting it away from the creek at the base of the hill to the south. That will solve most of the potential interactions between people and bears.

    ADFG won’t admit it, but the bears behavior in Far North Bicent. Park might be described as being ‘habituated’ to human use…it’s been shown they mostly have learned to avoid humans as demonstrated in ADFGs’ multi-year GPS tracking, and only occasionally screw up (eg., the big bruin shot in Peter s Creek, or the other one killed by a car near the Sullivan Arena, or the one who charged the Rovers Run runner).

    Ironically, by killing off the bears that now live in the area and are habituated, we may end up with even more stupid and aggressive bears who haven’t learned to keep out of harm’s way, and have move trouble than we ever have had.

    Bottom line: stop the salmon runs in selected drainages, and let’s see what happens after 5 years. If there’s still a bear “problem”, let’s revisit the situation.

    Thanks for creating this forum and considering my opinions! kk

    Comment: Kevin Keeler – 31. October 2008 @ 8:57 pm

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