One can’t live on Bear Lake without eventually writing a bit about bears. As I sit watching several swans feeding in front of the house reading about bear problems in my town, this seems like the right time. October has been bear month here on this side of the Kenai Peninsula. Last week a friend and teaching colleague Ron Hemstock was mauled by a bear at the Seward Airport, (Read more)and a few days before that several bears were dispatched by home owners who felt the need to protect their property. (read more) Ronn's event was rare moment when man and bear collide in unexpected places, Ronn spends lots of time on trails and mountains sides where one expects bear encounters, but he was attacked in the city limits. A tragic fact of life in bear country.
It’s important to call things as they are. So far this month, depending whose counting, the score is humans: five, bears: zero. That’s right, we got them outnumbered, and we are killing them faster than they are us.
We live in bear country, I knew it growing up, I knew it when I built my first house on Lake Drive when there were more bears in Questa Woods than people. I raised my kids with bear awarenessand adapted my behavior accordingly. Even with all that, what happened to Ronn could happen to me.
I knew I was in bear country when I bought this property on Bear Lake and had to honk my horn each morning when I arrived at the job site so I wouldn’t surprise a bruin fishing on my lakeshore. That summer I went several weeks when I saw bears every day. That is the reality of life in places where bears live. We modify our behavior because we know it’s hard for the bears to modify theirs. The alternative is to kill all the bears. Then we end up like California, where about the only place to see a grizzly is on their flag.
Most people who live on the edge of wildland know that living in peace with the animals require some behaviors that keep us all on safe. The better job we do the fewer conflicts we will have. When we moved to Bear Lake from a mile away on Lake Drive, I agreed to give up keeping chickens, Madelyn saw them as bear and eagle bait, so after several years I agreed. That was enough. We keep garbage in the bear-proof cans, and don’t leave birds seed and other attractant around the house. Bears walk through the yard on the way to the lake but they only stick around when we make a mistake. Last spring I left dog food on the porch and the next morning, opened my door to a bear having breakfast. He made three more visit that week before he figured out that was a one night stand. These are the kinds of mistakes that bring bears to our houses and get them shot.
People who are distressed about bears in their neighborhoods need to look around and try to figure out what’s bringing them to backyards looking for dinner. Garbage is the big one. It’s not hard to secure trash so bears can’t get it. Another culprit is free running chickens. I don’t think it’s coincidence that chicken-eating bears are common in neighborhoods where people let their chickens run free without coup or pen. The easy access to this prey eventually contributed to bears tearing onto secure chicken coups. If people don’t lockup their small livestock, they’re creating the behavior we don’t want. I kept chickens on Lake Drive (now Stoney Creek) for twenty-five years and had one bear incident in all that time, and that incident was a bear killing ducks I had running loose.
Am I saying we shouldn’t shoot bears? No, I’m saying we should do what we can so we don’t have to. Obviously we will encounter problem bears who become backyards pests and a danger to us all, but most of our bears are not that type. Not every bear that walks down the road or crosses your yard is a problem. They are part of what most of us enjoy about living here where bears, moose, otter, coyotes, swans, and even the occasional wolf make our lives richer by sharing the this valley with us. If you don’t like these animals in your backyard, I suggest you’re in the wrong place.