Kodiak prepares for emergence of bears from winter dens

Associated PressMarch 26, 2012 

KODIAK -- With spring here and bears about to emerge from their dens on Kodiak Island, state biologist Larry Van Daele said it is time for homeowners to get busy and keep bears from coming around.

"One of the first things that we need to do around our homes is look at what happens when it melts. What's lying around that we forgot when the snow hit?" Van Daele told KXMT-FM.

He said there could be bird seed scattered about or garbage that the dogs got into and then got covered over by snow.

"This has been a tough winter, so there might even be some dead deer under snowbanks," said the biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game who has lived on Kodiak for nearly 30 years.

Van Daele said a lot has changed since he first came to Kodiak. He remembers a time when any bear that strayed on to the road system or in to town ran the risk of being shot. But Van Daele said over time people have learned that shooting the bears and killing them didn't do much to condition other bears to stay away.

"It's easier to understand the bears you live with instead of shooting the ones and then having new ones come in all the time. By educating the bears, by not having attractants we didn't have to shoot as many," Van Daele said.

He said bears on the road system are now a common occurrence on Kodiak Island. For example, he said, people on the Buskin River run into bears almost every time they go fishing.

The majority of the public is not seeking to have bears killed, Van Daele said.

"We don't have a strong cry from the public say 'We gotta get rid of these bears and move them,' which we don't do. We don't move bears here in Kodiak. What we have are people calling us up and saying, 'This idiot did this in front of the bear. Stop that idiot from doing that.' It's a tremendous change in people's attitudes," Van Daele said.

When walking in the woods, Van Daele advises, resist the temptation to investigate foul smells or anything that might be dead, because a bear might be up to the same thing.

"Be alert to where bears may be, don't surprise them, walk in groups if at all possible, if you've got a dog there are certain areas it should be on a leash or at least under control so it doesn't go bark at a bear and bring it back to you," he said.

Van Daele said residents and bears are doing a better job of coexisting. A good example of that is the bear that roamed around Monashka Bay this winter, he said. The bear had been sighted numerous times near the Wal-Mart and Safeway, but no dangerous encounters were ever reported.

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