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Bears don’t know better. We should stop blaming them for the problems we cause.

  • Author: Rick Sinnott
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 8, 2018
  • Published May 8, 2018

A grizzly bear tests the strength of a cooler at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center outside Yellowstone National Park. (Photo by Whitney Shefte / Washington Post)

Carrot-craving kangaroos attacking people in Australia. Protein-craving bears attacking chickens in Alaska. Both of these incidents were reported on the same day in the same newspaper.

Despite involving two very different species at opposite ends of the globe, there is a common denominator: people. Careless and clueless people.

Kangaroos are attacking people because park visitors are ignoring signs and attempting to hand-feed the marsupials carrots so they can capture a selfie. Carrots are a treat kangaroos find hard to resist. Unfortunately, a kangaroo's powerful hind legs and claws are capable of disemboweling a human. That hasn't happened yet, but visitors are increasingly ending up with deep cuts to their faces and torsos.

According to authorities, eating carrots can lead to a slow and painful death for the kangaroo. So why do people persist despite the warnings? Because they are careless and clueless.

It's no secret that hundreds of bears inhabit Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Chugach State Park. Some of them are brown bears, which are perfectly capable of crawling over fences, ripping into sheds and killing pets and livestock.

And yet many people can't seem to get it into their heads that raising chickens or leaving garbage lying around in bear country will eventually attract a bear. There are steps you can take to avoid this. Bears respect the sting of an electric fence, for example.

It's early May. Everyone knows bears are active. Bears have been seen in the Birchwood neighborhood abutting JBER for three weeks. The neighbors all know about it. So it comes as no surprise that a grizzly sow with three cubs crawled over a chicken-wire fence, ripped into a flimsy shed and killed 22 chickens and a goat. The surprising thing is that the family has an electric fence. But the fence wasn't set up yet this spring. Do you park your car downtown and leave it running with the keys in the ignition?

Of course the bears killed the chickens. It was like dangling a carrot in a kangaroo's face. I'm sorry the family's chickens and goat were killed. It wouldn't have happened if they had showed more initiative.

Now that the sow is dead, her three cubs are almost certainly going to become problems because they've learned the lesson that garbage and chickens are good to eat.

This is the time of year when bears are likely to be very hungry. I've seen fresh bear scat this spring with berries in it. If bears are eating last year's berries, there's not a lot of food out there. There might be the bones of a moose left by a hunter last fall or a mouthful of sedges or other vegetative food. The bears are hungry. Protect your chickens.

But here's what really worries me, more than the shooting of a single bear and, maybe in a few weeks, her cubs. I'm worried about the response from the Department of Fish and Game.

Fish and Game spokesperson Ken Marsh was quoted as saying, "These guys should be able to make it on their own out in the natural environment." Marsh should be able to make it on his own "out in the natural environment" too, but it's a lot easier to find food in a supermarket (or, in the case of the bear, an unprotected chicken coop). Chillingly, Marsh added, "As long as they stay in their natural environment, we're not going to pursue them."

I hope this is just Marsh talking, not a new policy of the state agency charged with managing wildlife. If that's a new policy, there won't be many bears left in Chugach State Park. If people start expecting Fish and Game officers and the police to show up at 5 a.m. and shoot every bear that has strayed from its "natural environment," then those people aren't going to worry about their garbage anymore. They won't even protect their chickens.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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