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Awakening bears pose problem for backyard chicken coops

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

Poultry farmers, beware: You aren't the only Alaskans who enjoy fresh eggs.

Locals in Eagle River are being urged to protect their chickens from the multitude of just-rousing bears in nearby Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest. It is well known that bears enjoy eggs. And chickens. And anything else even remotely edible and left unguarded.

The warning goes out as hundreds of hungry bears rise from hibernation in the park and forest. It also comes in the middle of a public comment period regarding a municipal zoning ordinance that, if passed by the Anchorage Assembly, would legalize backyard chicken coops within Anchorage city limits as well.

Two bears met their maker last year after thwarted hen-house raids in Eagle River, according to the Alaska Star. As do-it-yourself backyard chicken rearing becomes an increasingly acceptable hobby in the suburbs and cities of Alaska and elsewhere in the United States, the Department of Fish and Game is concerned that a corresponding increase in human-bear encounters is bound to follow.

A workshop last week at the Eagle River Nature Center taught would-be chicken owners how to install electric fencing around their coops. Statistics from the state veterinarian, cited in the Alaska Star report, indicate a 20 percent increase in live chicken imports to Alaska in 2010.

Biologists recommended electric fencing that packs a punch between 3,000 and 7,000 volts. One state worker told the newspaper: "The solution is not to be shooting every bear that comes to get your chickens. You have to be more proactive."

The state estimates that somewhere between 250 and 415 brown and black bears roam the backcountry between Eagle River and Girdwood, according to the story.

The Alaska Center for the Environment is urging Anchorage residents to email their Assembly representative to voice support for legalizing backyard chickens in Anchorage.