Alaskans are blessed with our connection to wildlife, and for many of us, it ranks one of the top reasons for living here. Even in our largest municipalities, hardly a week goes by that residents don’t see a moose, a bear, eagles or a lynx. We literally live with wildlife. And as spring begins, there’s a lot more outdoor activity from both people and wildlife, and our encounters with wildlife increase.
Living with wildlife creates some challenges and sometimes even threats to public safety. We are constantly revisiting our policies to make sure they meet expectations of the public and are consistent with state laws and our mission. If we find a policy that doesn’t work anymore, we develop new policies that will more properly balance living with wildlife and public safety. Both are reasonable expectations and within the mission and responsibilities of the Department of Fish and Game.
Moose, bears, sometimes owls and even lynx can present danger to humans when unexpected encounters occur. Sometimes it ends up poorly for the human, and more often poorly for the wildlife encountered.
The best management and the safest management is to minimize human-wildlife encounters. While we continually seek better ways to accomplish this, there are proven actions everyone can take to help this goal.
With moose, be aware of them and never feed them. Its impressive how easily a 1,600-pound moose can hide in plain sight right next to your driveway, on urban trails or even on the streets. Their natural camouflage works extraordinarily well, but a vehicle/moose collision simply creates damage on both sides. If you’re on foot, their hooves can land a damaging or deadly blow if they’re feeling threatened. If you see one close to a trail on which you’re walking, biking or skiing, tell everyone you see coming the other direction that there’s a moose ahead and about where to expect it. And if you see a calf, never approach it, as it is quite likely the mom is nearby. The Department of Fish and Game will respond to truly orphaned calves.
With bears, we can minimize encounters by not leaving items unprotected that smell “good enough to eat” to a bear. These include, but are not limited to, birdfeeders or bird bait balls hanging in your yard, leaving trash out overnight for pickup, not using bear-proof trash containers, or even chicken coops and beehives (Winnie the Pooh was not an exaggeration in his obsession with honey). Securing trash inside the garage until trash day or keeping chicken coops and beehives enclosed in an electric fence will help. It’s almost impossible to mitigate all the aromas that bring bears into town, but we can lessen them by practicing behaviors like these.
As the snowless season is emerging after what seems like a very long winter, we at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game promise to stay vigilant in finding better and better ways to manage wildlife keeping Alaskan’s safety in mind. We ask everyone to stay “wildlife aware” in our outdoors. And rest assured, if public safety is threatened, the department will take action.
Doug Vincent-Lang serves as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
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