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Story Last modified at 6:38 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Being bear aware on JBER
Knowing your surroundings could prevent trouble

JBER Public Affairs


— Wildlife experts say brown and black bears can be especially dangerous when they begin to rely on human activities as an alternative source of food.
U.S. Air Force photo/Steve White Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

Spring has finally sprung with summer quickly following its trail, which means tons of outdoor fun in Alaska. It also means those choosing to venture into the wild should know their wildlife safety.

The 673d Natural Resource Conservation Agency is advising all residents of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to exercise caution while undergoing any activities, which require them to enter into a shared environment with wildlife.

"Military members on the base are living in a shared environment with the wildlife around them," said Herman Griese, 673d Wildlife Biologist.

This time of year, wildlife activities tend to increase since the bears, black and brown, begin to wake from their winter hibernation and start looking for food. One place the bears will look for food is in residential areas, so residents have to be careful to not leave any possible food items out.

"There are some things that you don't always think about," Griese said. "For example, if you leave a lot of food on the BBQ grill whether it has been partially cooked or not, it's still potential food a bear can smell and investigate.

The number of bear reports in and around housing and other populated areas has decreased in recent years, Griese said.

Even though the number of nuisance bears in and around housing and other populated areas has dwindled, residents should still be cautious about things they leave outside their home. The most common bear attractants on base have been unsecured garbage, pet food and wild bird seed.

"Another bear attractant is salmon," Griese said. "As the fishing season comes upon us, people are going to have salmon in ice chests they don't want to clean right away. They'll leave them outside overnight. Bears seem to be able to smell right through those things, and the ice chest is probably covered in salmon scent anyway."

Residents should remember anyone who provides food to bears unintentionally could be fined $325 by Military Conservation agents on JBER. A fine could be imposed for neglecting to bring in bird feeders or by not properly securing trash too.

A key to prevent being fined or attracting bears into your neighborhood is to practice good trash discipline. Ensure garbage is properly stored inside the home or garage, and then placed inside the nearest bear resistant dumpster.

Also, bird feeders should be cleaned of seed and stored for the bear season. You should stop feeding birds from April to November, Griese said.

The primary concern of the Military Conservation agents is safety of the human population but protecting wildlife is also their charge.

Mark Sledge, conservation enforcement chief in charge of the Military Conservation Agent program, reminds residents and visitors of JBER as they enforce state and federal conservation laws and regulations, their goal is protect the natural resources from abuse while educating the public on staying safe in bear country.

"When recreating always be aware. Make noise, stay in groups and look and listen for bears and other animals. Make sure as you're moving around in bear country to be alert," Griese said.

"When taking a pet along, be cognizant of what's going on around you and make sure your pet is on a leash," said Matt Moran, a wildlife biologist with the 673rd CES.

"When walking pets, pretty much anywhere on base, keep them on a leash so they aren't running to a bear, chasing a bear or in a worst case scenario the bear chases the dog back to you," Moran said. "I wouldn't say you shouldn't have your pet out there with you, and often times that will deter a bear, but you don't want your pet running loose."

These are good tips for bears, wolves and moose, Griese said.

"(Pets) can be perceived as food or threats and any animal that is threatened can become aggressive and follow them back to the owner. It has happened more than once in the past."

Remember it's an individual's responsibility to safeguard themselves.

"Stay in groups and make noise, use bear bells, air horns, just talk loudly," Moran said. "Walking quietly through the woods allows you to sneak up on animals and sometimes surprise bears. Pay attention to noises when you're walking along stream beds, where it's difficult for a bear to hear you and for you to hear a bear."

Failure to follow these rules can be fatal for the individual and the animals as well.

Bears and wolves, which become habituated to human presence and conditioned to human food sources usually become perceived as a threat and are then destroyed.

For more information on wildlife laws and regulations contact Mark Sledge at 552-8609 or if you have questions about Elmendorf's fish and wildlife contact Herman Griese and Matt Moran at 552-2282, or the Fort Richardson Wildlife conservation agents at 384-1128.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.