Some bears are already out of hibernation in Alaska, and others will be out soon, which has the Alaska Department of Fish and Game warning that it's time to be bear aware.
In a Thursday press release, the agency noted that Gov. Bill Walker has proclaimed April "Bear Awareness Month" and warned that though only a few bears are out of their dens now, more are likely to emerge any day.
Southcentral Alaska -- the area around Anchorage where most of Alaska's population lives -- has experienced an unusually mild winter and is facing an early spring, which might encourage some bears to emerge from their dens a tad early.
"I've heard rumors that a bear or two have been seen around Anchorage and Eagle River," said state wildlife biologist Dave Battle in Anchorage.
One grizzly bear has already been killed by early-season hunters on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, according to other wildlife biologists. And homeowners in the Potter Creek area of Anchorage have reported a black bear going in and out of a den along that drainage on the south edge of the city.
Bears regularly go back and forth between their dens after first emerging from hibernation but it usually isn't long after leaving the dens that they start to range widely in search of food.
"Right now is the time to be proactive -- before we start getting a lot of calls and complaints -- and take down bird feeders and clean up any seed, trash or pet food left out over the winter," Battle said.
Bird seed and dog and livestock feed are nutrient-rich foods that can attract bears from long distances and lure them into people's yards and even onto their decks. Bears are known to show up in backyards almost anywhere in the city looking for bird feeders. An Anchorage homeowner caught one such bear on video in Kempton Hills, a densely populated neighborhood in 2008.
Trash, poultry, goats and small livestock also attract hungry bears, according to Fish and Game officials, which indicates it is time to move garbage inside the garage or into a sturdy, bear-proof shed and energize electric fences around livestock.
"Bears that associate homes and people with food often return," the agency warns. "Feeding bears, even unintentionally, is illegal, and leaving attractants out around homes, cabins or camps in a manner that attracts bears can result in fines."
Homeowners are reminded they should keep trash secure from bears until the day of scheduled trash pickup and encourage neighbors unfamiliar with life around the bears to do the same.
Information on electric fences to keep bears out of gardens and compost (another big bear attractant) and away from pens and buildings that house domestic animals can be found at www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.bearfences.
Now is also a good time to clean the barbecue, so you don't wake some morning to a bear trying to lick the grease off it, and make sure freezers are secured so bears can't get at them.
Some bears, having once gotten into freezers, know what they look like, understand what they contain and will even venture into open garages to try to grab a snack. Bears that bold usually end up getting shot and killed in Anchorage. Residents can do bears a favor by never allowing them to discover the riches hidden in freezers.
To learn more about coexisting with bears, Fish and Game directs people to www.alaskabears.alaska.gov for a statewide schedule of bear awareness and safety presentations.